The wind pushes her back a little, drives her head down and hunches her shoulders toward her chest. It stings, the wind, and she can feel the thin metal hoops in her ears begin to burn. It is good for her, she decides as she steadies herself in moving forward with her new rounded shape, her body made small and curve-edged, like a cypress knee or a torpedo.
It happens just as quick as that, the place where she is from rises up into her words as metaphor or image, cadence like the people used to talk down at the gas station, like they still talk. She used to think they sounded stupid, words slurred and garbled together like mud and brackish. Now she knows that they don’t sound stupid, and that there isn’t anything simple about the sound of their voices, or even about what they say, even if they just talk about the weather all day long, how hot, how cold, how wet, how dry. How long will it last. Lord only knows.
The reasons that this is all they say aren’t simple at all. Just like the reasons she feels a little sad and angry aren’t simple at all. They might be stupid though, stupid reasons. Not good reasons at all.
She doesn’t have a goddam thing to be sad or angry about. Nothing. She lets the wind remind her of this, feels it cut through her sweater, her other sweater. Hit her warm skin hard, make her face numb, burn her up in just a mile when some folks will be out in the wind all night. Some folks have already froze to death. She wonders about the man at the coffee shop, the one who sits there all day, used to live in his van in Detroit, sleeps somewhere over away from the river. “It’s cold down there, by the river. People don’t realize that’s a terrible place to have a camp. They think it’ll be good, but it’s no good. Cold in the winter, ten or fifteen degrees colder down there by the river. They don’t care none, drunks. They’ll just start a fire, burn up their clothes, whatever they can find. They’ll go around to these places and get all these clothes. More clothes than they can carry around, and then just leave ‘em laying in the mud or try to burn ‘em. Trash, they’ll burn that. It’s too damn cold down by the river. You see people camping down there, you know they don’t know what they’re doing.”
The man at the coffee shop will go on and on, talk and talk, grinning vitriol about case managers and the systems, how people have so much important work they are doing, but don’t get anything done at all. He says he has been homeless for months. Can’t get housing. Has a case manager. Forms filled out, name on lists. “Last year, I survived 10 degrees. I’ll be fine.”
He wears a black technical jacket like you’d get at the outdoors store. He gets disability payments, can afford a warm sleeping bag. His legs are thin like spindles.
The coffee shop people don’t care how long he sits there. He reads the New York Times. They refill his cup.
Tourists come and go all day, getting artisan lattes down by the river, down by the gallery district that used to be the depot district and then for a long time was nothing at all, just the train tracks with the trains that don’t carry passengers, trains that don’t stop, an old steel company. A plastics company further up the river. Waste treatment.
Her fingers hurt if she has her gloves off, so she leaves her gloves on. They are beige cashmere with a hole in the palm of the right hand. She got them from a free box and they fit her fingers well, are long up the wrist, up the arm.
It doesn’t take her long to get to where she is going, just a walk up the street, cut across the park, a vacant lot, sidewalk uphill, a crosswalk, a parking lot where pigeons surge and scatter around a hard piece of bread, grainy snow swirling on the grey frozen ground. She wonders if she could be out in the cold all day, all night.
She knows that if she had to, she could, because that is what people do. They do what they have to do.
When she got there the other day, she found a camp by the front door, a person huddled with their dog under mounds and mounds of grubby pulled blankets and free box sweaters. There was garbage mixed into the bedding like the little shreds of paper and plastic that mice make their nests out of. A machete was tucked in beside them, close to the wall.
The man who used to be bow-legged but now isn’t anymore for reasons she doesn’t understand and will never ask about comes into the office yelling about how someone he works for called him asking about where is the goddam gas, and how if he is gonna come at him like that then he better watch the fuck out because I’ll take a machete and cut his head clean off, clean off I tell you, motherfucker calling me cussing me when I’m on the phone with my caseworker.
If one ceases in a habit that is important to them, to their health or sense of well-being, to the functionality of their life, then suffering – be it relatively mild or catastrophic – will ensue, and the individual will necessarily reckon with the abruption of habit as having a negative impact upon their life. Sometimes people falter in their habits without even realizing it. A busy week without stretching in the morning, becomes a busy month. Slowly stretching is forgotten, and mornings become something different than what they were. Depending on the activity that is ceased – or begun! – a person’s life will change, their health will change, their state of well-being will change. Sometimes, entire lives will fall apart.
I didn’t intend to stop writing almost entirely. I just shifted my attention and focused my time on other things. Slowly, I quit writing. Put it off one day, chose to hang out with a friend, decided to go running.
It is hard to even begin to explain the impact that not writing has had on my life. Observably, it’s no big deal, nothing really. I am fine. Good even. I changed jobs. I quit smoking. My relationships are relatively healthy. I continued to run and am in good shape. My house is fairly clean. Things are in acceptable working order.
However, I am unhappy inside myself. I feel like I will never catch up, like I lost time, lost opportunity. Fucked up.
I know these things aren’t true in the slightest. That it doesn’t matter if I barely wrote for a year. It’s not even like I didn’t write. I wrote a fair amount, tried to put together a book, compiled pages and pages, wrote new content.
Had to question whether or not I am even a good writer. Had to face the fact that I might not be, that I might not even love writing the way I told myself that I do. If I loved writing, wouldn’t I be writing?
Most days, I dreaded writing. Did I really just like smoking cigarettes, the nicotine on the front porch, the pouch of tobacco, the sparkling water, the rush of drug across synapse. Feels like genius some days.
This morning she walked in the cold back down to the car, cut across the big grassy triangle of median, waited for the light at the corner. Stood up straight and was aware that she was being seen by all the cars at the intersection of Haywood and Patton. Tall woman, tight red pants. Very long braids. Pale orange scarf like sherbet, a little bold to be called peach. She should have just written the fucking book. She’d be working with an editor now if she had. One by one, benchmark days came and went, goals falling to the wayside, flat on their sides.
It wasn’t even that it was a difficult book to write, or that she didn’t know how to write the book. She wondered if she had a psychic block. She knew she had a psychic block, that maybe even dark forces or a family curse had silenced her. Rubbish, she said to herself and knew that this, too, was true. Really, she was of two minds, maybe more. On the one hand she was a calm, confident lady, clear-headed and methodical, realistic in her approach to writing out the story of how she once tried to prove God with clouds. She was, however, also a superstitious and mildly deluded neurotic who knew that she would never actually write the book, that she would go round and round with it and that it would go nowhere. She would fail.
No. She decided while walking across the grassy triangle of the median, wind swirling dirt at the corners of the street, just down from the mission, just over from the park, highway just a little ways away, could hear the cars moving, dim hum, the growl of a truck shifting gears. She would write the book. She could do it.
The steam from the shower smelled like chlorine and something about the soap smell and the plastic-smell from the shower curtain liner and dusty warmth from the heater reminded her of being in the hospital, being in treatment. It caught her off guard, the smell of the hospital there in her home and the cache of memory that was linked to that sensory reminder. The small plastic lattice squares of the basket that held her shower supplies, the weight of it as it was hands to her by the nurse at the big desk that separated the boys hall from the girls hall. Right across from the dayroom, where she had slept on the floor the first night on unit. Line of sight. Suicide watch. She’d never much thought of suicide, but had to lay there anyway, right across from the nurse’s desk, sleep there. She’d never be able to sleep. Surprised by waking up. She could sleep anywhere. She knew that now.
It’s fitting, perfect perhaps, that the ninth anniversary of her beginning the project that led to Rachel trying to prove God with pictures of clouds found the woman curled on her bed in a stultifying depression, tears sliding from her eyes as she stared blankly out the window.
On Friday, I went to my first ever figure drawing event. It wasn’t a class. It was a room full of artists gathered in a space, drawing a model that they pooled funds to pay.
So, we all were just there to draw – no instruction, only brief introduction.
“This is my first time ever drawing from life,” I mention to the older man sitting beside me.
“Oh?,” he looks surprised, forehead wrinkling up toward his greying hair.
“It can be kind of intimidating,” his face was kind.
I laughed, “Oh, I’ve been at work all day, so fortunately I didn’t have time to even think about it much.”
I wasn’t thinking about work at all as I set the borrowed drawing board on my lap, fidgeted with my pencil, my eraser.
The whole day disappeared when the woman’s robe dropped.
I studied her left foot, and tried to find the lines that would transpose the 3D form onto the piece of blank paper in front of me.
Would I be able to do this? I let myself look at her entire body, at her face, her expression. Tried to find the anchor lines, noticed how oddly the human form lays against itself at certain angles. Felt a rush of minor anxiety over how transpose the fingers of the right hand, marveled at the strangeness of the right breast overlaying the upward tilted chin.
I didn’t know if I could do it, draw from life, find the right lines, the right scaling of figure to page, the accurate proportions to foreshorten.
“We’ll start with 10 second poses,” the host of the event said, with no great fanfare, almost absentmindedly.
The model moved into her first position, and suddenly I was drawing, not thinking or trying, just looking at the woman and drawing the curve of her back, noticing the valleys of her scapula, her collarbones. The indentations of her knees and the stark line that separated her calf from her thigh.
The model moved again, and I drew her arm, connected it to the slope down the backside of her ribs.
It felt like a game, a challenge. It didn’t matter if what I drew was good or not good. It didn’t matter if I messed up. I could just erase, or start over.
There I was, in a room full of artists, drawing a real, live human being.
I’m here in the brightening day on the porch.
Today is a day of lifting, and I am again inhabiting my grounded deep-felt optimism.
The birds have come back to the yard this morning, bringing the reassurance of their company, the reminder of what is real and what is beautiful and what cannot be taken or lost or failed within.
It’s worth me taking a few minutes to write down what has occurred.
I began. Yes. I know. I have begun many times. This time is different. I have said that many times before. Seriously though, this beginning feels different. I found a conceptual niche, a way to begin, a voice to write from.
I will do this. My life depends on it. I have a plan.
Oh, I have said all this before.
This time feels different. Is different.
She is sitting on the porch as the sun goes down, rain clattering on the metal sawhorse in the corner of the yard by the steps up to the house. It is her favorite color light again, diffuse rose, with gold.
The light is made by the glow of a thin-clouded, gentle rainy sunset getting caught in the near infinite droplets of water in the air.
“The air is full of water,” she thinks, writes this into her phone. Her hair is a long, damp rope behind her, and the bones of her back press into the slats of the hard white rocker.
She is at the house alone.
She likes it, being at home alone.
She feels lucky that she doesn’t mind being alone, prefers it even. She knows that this makes her different from some people, that some people cannot imagine being peaceful in being alone.
Sometimes, it is very hard for me to feel peaceful when I am with people.
She has begun writing in first person. She notices this, wonders about it, why she shifts back and forth like that, what it means.
She thinks that it means she is stylistically sloppy, and forgets sometimes that she is she in the writing, and that I am her.
It’s possible that I just get confused.
This is not, its worth noting, some dissociative situation, where I have an alter-ego that I call She.
The use of third-person simply creates a different point of perspective, a participant observer of her own existence, her physical sensations, her thoughts, her internal dialogue. The space she is in.
As she is writing, she makes a mental note to say more about where she is at, what she looks like, how her body holds itself, the aspects of her existence that are usually sorely underrepresented in her accounts of a day, huge missing pieces of landscape and song and the tightness of her long braid held in a coil at the back of her head with a bamboo apple skewer, the press and pull of it, her crooked glasses.
She hardly ever writes about being a mother. She has thoughts about being a mother, and certainly has a great many experiences relating to the fact that she is a mother, an entire wing of her conscious awareness devoted to her existence in her children’s lives as their mother.
She doesn’t talk much about any of that.
She loves her children, and wants them to be the best possible people that they might be, as measured in terms of embodied happiness and self-determined quality of life.
For the past ten minutes she has been writing about being a mother. There was a swarm of thoughts and feels, remembered and imagined potential realities associated with motherhood, with her children.
She doesn’t say much about that, but will probably need to at some point, because motherhood (and her marriage, which she also does not say much about) is a keystone factor in her experience and how the summer and fall of 2010 played out, how the past decade and a half have been shaped.
It’s amazing to her to think that some things that happened twenty years ago, twenty five years ago are still shaping her days. She understands that this is how life works and what we choose to do, or simply drift into doing, shapes what our lives might look like in a year, or twenty years. Still she wastes a lot of time. Puts things off, even things she wants to do, things she is excited to do.
Sometimes this is a matter of simple time and attention, of her brain being blitzed after talking with people about their difficult and beautiful lives all day, solving big problems.
Sometimes, she wonders if it has to do with fear, or with not really believing in herself.
Many days just don’t hold enough hours for her to engage in immersive work on projects, so she just thinks about the ways she might create a particular painting, how she might depict the glow of underwater, how she might tell a part of the story, what ideas feel resonant in her.
She takes notes and keeps trying.
The greatest challenge to her as a writer is to concisely capture the essence of an albatross of experience concisely, beautifully, and effectively.
She thinks that poetry might be the only way she can tell about the parts of her life that she doesn’t talk about.
These neglected-in-the-telling major life components may, she realizes now, be primary barrier in her telling the story that she has been trying to tell for years, as factors relating to her family were integral drivers in the confluence of events that led to her being asked to step away from the knives in the kitchen by armed officers because that is what police do when they arrive at somebody’s home to take them to the hospital under involuntary commitment orders.
“Oh, yeah,” she’d said, an amused smirk in her voice, a half-hearted half-laugh, “the knives.”
She felt clever when she rolled her eyes, that she’d emphasized that what the officers had requested was utterly dismissable.
She wasn’t dangerous.
If anything, she was in danger. Two armed male officers had entered her kitchen. She had let them in, after the knocking on the door woke her up, brought her downstairs. She felt fear when she saw them, because people feel fear when they see police at their door.
“What’s wrong? Why are you here? Did something happen?”
She knew within moments of the officers entering her home why they were there.
Inside the cavity of her chest her heart felt like it was made of steel, and yet was being struck with lightning again and again. She felt slack, almost numb. It was hard to breathe, and there was shaking at the edge of her.
She understood what was happening, and she understood why it was happening, had ideas about how it might have happened, what might’ve gone down to bring the officers to her home to take her to the hospital, who went to the magistrate.
She knew that she had be cooperative, and that she could not do anything that was perceived as crazy or volatile.
Despite beginning to shiver, she felt completely calm.
“Hmmph,” she thinks, noticing the words she had written, letting the small incident report she had issued sink in. “Where did that come from?”
She scrolls up the small bright screen to try to figure out what the hell she had been talking about that landed her in the kitchen with those cops come to take her over to the ER at the hospital where her then-ex-spouse worked, to be involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric unit on the 4th floor in a process that involved people I had met and who knew my name and my children’s names telling me that, no, I could not have my bra.
“Daaaaaamn,” she thinks. “There’s that I again.”
That first person voice.
She shifts back and forth, depending on what she is writing about.
She was talking about family, about how she doesn’t talk about family much.
Before that, she was talking about what she does write about, which is mostly her thoughts and her perceived experiences, ideas she has while driving to work. Things she wants to remember.
Sometimes, she writes about memory, and about how she thinks it works. How other things might work, how experience is made.
Why she thinks the way she does, feels the feels she feels, and sees things things that other people don’t see, while missing other things entirely.
She takes inventories of what is on her mind.
Occasionally, a tedious account of too much to do and not enough time will take up her attention in a fit of perceived scarcity and anxiety, frustration. She tries to write her way to reconciliation in her thinking about the simple mechanics of time and energy, what is important.
Once, she intended to create a collection of beauties, small accounts of moments when she felt the feeling that she understands to be beauty. She lost track of the documentation of beauties, but still continues to collect them, and saves them in poems.
She just goes on and on, talking with herself about whatever is on her mind, trying out different approaches to telling, to showing.
I get depressed when I’m not writing, depressed in a quiet and relatively non-obtrusive way, at least at first, until the gnawing death of a part of me, a part of my voice, the voice that comes out in writing, begins to slowly deflate my spirit and blanch the day of its sense of story, fill it with a dozen small mournings of beautiful moments that will go unrecorded, or ideas that flood me with a giddy adrenaline, scraps of phrase that make me feel something that I like or find informative.
I don’t think that it’s just writing that seems to keep alive this thread in me that feels tethered to some hint about who I really am…not that I am trying to find out, at least with any specificity. Writing does, nonetheless, help me to keep track of what keeps seems to keep my heart alive.
The person that I am, at least my conditioned self, has everything to do with how I grew up and where I grew up and what experiences I had access to, and what experiences were put upon me by my environment, by rules, by circumstance, by accident, all of which was impacted by the culture and economy that I grew up within.
Is there a part of me, some centrally resonant constellation of qualities characterizing my existence that is more important and more lasting that any of the manifestations over time of personality or interests, endeavors of some era or another within my life? Some part of me that is singularly mine, that would exist independent of the people who raised me, the place where I am from, the things that happened to me?
“Do I have a soul?”
Earnest, beseeching, hands clasped, an upward gaze. She likes that she can laugh at herself, at all her big vague questions, her hapless wishing that answers would fall from the sky, right down on into her head.
Sometimes, I consider the themes that show up in my writing, the topics and activities that are most prevalent across the thousands of words. I think about what doesn’t change about me, my relatively static traits – lasting interests, core personality attributes.
She was on the porch earlier, before it got to be full dark, and what she had been meaning to write about was the fact that she had to wear earplugs to work in the morning, because everything was so loud.
She was smoking a cigarette after substance use supervision group, where she and her supervisor and all the clinicians and peers sat around and ate lunch, talked about the pre-contemplation stage of change and the protocols for the new suboxone clinic that the psychiatric nurse practitioner was beginning, a clients impossible situation, their IV methamphetamine use, their abusive relationship, their homelessness, their pending charges, some combination of adverse experiences and circumstances attached to a name, a life.
She always went out there to smoke after being jammed into the small classroom for supervision at the Recovery Education Center, the program that hired her as a peer two months after she finally got out of court-ordered intensive outpatient services.
All that was years ago.
She hardly remembers the person she was, probably because she was scared, in shock, and heavily medicated for most of the longest winter.
The pavement was hot, and she talked with a co-worker about the non-profit industrial complex, and how fucked up the organization they work for is, how fucked up the whole non-profit sector is. She liked her co-worker, because they could have big conversations and he didn’t seem to care if she smoked. He seemed to listen to what she had to say.
She doesn’t know where the idea came from, in that moment, but she wanted to sit with her back leaning against his back. To backsit with him. She didn’t think much about it, just asked if he would do something with her.
The breadth of his back was surprising, and she tried to find the center of it with the small line of her spine, sat up straight, more a meditation pose than a lean-against-a-friend.
She knew how to drop into a semi-thoughtless variably altered state of relaxed consciousness, because she had to facilitate the noon meditation class at the center. She used to meditate with a man who once ran marathons and go to Buddhist retreats, who wanted to be a writer, but had been diagnosed with schizophrenia instead, put on neuroleptics for almost three decades. He lived in a trailer out in the county, on the red clay side of a piney hill, surrounded by other trailers, singlewide and streaked with rust, black with damp at the seams. He used to live in New York, but somehow ended up in the mountains of western North Carolina.
When he was a young man, in the winter of 1977, he went to the Farm in Tennessee, where as a baby in the winter of 1977, she went with her parents to live. They left before Spring and it unlikely that her path had crossed with his when she was a baby and he was a ex-military runner, a former deli worker who wanted to be free, to be a hippie philosopher, some kind of Kerouac.
He left the Farm after just a few months, too.
Her life would have been very, very different if her parents had stayed there instead of going back home to the land that her father grew up on.
As it was, she grew up in South Georgia and never much hung out with people who meditate until she had to facilitate the class, and learned how to forget where she was, to forget that she is anything at all.
She shifted the weight of her hips and let the small flat of her back press into his lumbar region. Her eyes were closed, the sunlight blaring orange-red through her eyelids. She felt sweat beading at her brow line, heard cars going by, and was surprised by the stark animal fact of her coworker’s back, the knob of his skull against the back of her head, her coiled hair pressed against his neck. Then, she stopped hearing the sounds as sounds, and the hot asphalt beneath her dropped away and it felt like the whole world of her began to seep out from the space between her ribs.
She doesn’t remember how it was that they shifted weight and agreed to stand up, to go back to work.
He looked different to her, almost radically. She felt her face wide open, and understood that she probably looked different, too.
The results of the test were printed as a folded two page booklet, a booklet like the test had been. The paper was stiff and her name was printed right there, inked indelible on a line with the name of my school. It was not the first time I had seen my name printed on a piece of paper. I had blearily regarded the bracelet on my wrist in the hospital after I fell, my name in little fuzzy-edged block letters, held in plastic that scratched at me.
Here she was again, a person with a name, letters and sounds that mean who she is, that she is a person, a person with a name.
Standing in the kitchen at the house in Georgia, circa 1984, just a little kid standing by the counter, the yellow-thick lacquered cabinets rising up to the ceiling, looking quietly at the results of her basic skills testing, the test she took at school, the longest day, the most quiet and warm, sunlight cutting through the oaks outside, eraser fibers all over her fingers, her left hand smeared with graphite because she drags her hand over the paper when she writes with her hand. Tiny, hard little circles.
The numbers in the rows of lines and words, different tests, different measures, didn’t mean much to her, except she knew that bigger numbers were better, meant you’d done better. The results offered the average score along with the person’s individual score, provided a percentile ranking.
She did not know what it meant to have such a high number, what that meant, to be way up in the biggest number before the biggest number, how that could be possible. She pictured all the kids in Mr. Harrison’s science classroom, the smart ones and the ones who were just regular, or not smart, and wondered about their numbers. Would it feel sad to not have a good number, a high number?
She didn’t care that much about being smart. For the most part, she hated school. She learned to go, and even to have fun there, find things to be interested in, people she liked to be around, spaces that she felt a fondness for, quiet bathrooms, shady sections of sidewalks, the feeling of waiting for a bus at the end of the day, so many arms and legs and smells and voices, all going home.
Even when she was having fun, she always wanted to be somewhere else, doing other things. Staring out at the sun-blasted grass and thin, out-in-the-county pines, she’d feel an almost animal pull for the shade and river smells of the woods at home, the cool on her eyes as the car left the bright highway and entered the tunnel of oaks and pines that led to the house.
Her grades were good, except in math. She didn’t care that much about math, beyond the basics of knowing how to figure out what she needed to figure out. She thought she already knew how to figure out all that she might have to figure out, and that fractions weren’t that important.
She had trouble at school though, was a little troubled. For a long time, her trouble with school didn’t show up enough to be recognized as troubled.
Even when her trouble with school, which had generalized into a trouble with life, did begin to really show up, in the form of long absences, sickness both feigned and manifested through both will and self-harm, minor intentional injuries, bad sunburns, induced nausea. She became good at sensitizing herself to headaches, focusing in on the pulse in her temple, finding the grain of pain there, imagining the blood flow, pushing pain, her head filling with it. She did not know that she was doing this, exacerbating her headaches by how she paid attention to them. She knew that she would not have to go to school if her head hurt so badly she literally could not move, if every movement exploded in a breathtaking pain in her head, if tears were sliding out of her eyes and every sound, any light was a brutality to her senses. The knife slipping in under the door, the footsteps on the other side of the house, the grind of the air conditioner.
The headaches started when she was little. She had them all the time, her face slack, head throbbing. She got them after sunburn, maybe just dehydration, a day with too much noise, to much movement in crowds, so much blending sound, the 4th of July parade, the sharp mild smell of the church basement, Girl Scouts, a day spent laying on the couch watching cable in the strangely dark and impermanent seeming living rooms of her few friends, being in places that weren’t home, going to the mall, the cloy of perfumes and fabrics, clattering hangers, a wash of music and voices, echoes, the detergent aisle at the grocery store, the hold of her breath.
She hated the headaches. They became the only thing that was happening when they were happening, a pain that was immobilizing because it was so uniquely distracting, because it pulled at all her attention, became the defining experience.
On the drive home from work, she thought about whether or not it was crazy to think that maybe there was some contract, that what is being asked of me (oh, hapless first person, stumbling in with a dazed vulnerability, a quivering hope tinged with doubt) is that I do everything in my power to create a life for myself that is more free, to put my time and energy toward better use, to make things happen for myself. To get my shit together.
In her mind, she has hitched the idea of writing a book to her longing for freedom, supplied as a potential means to an end, or as a possible vehicle to make a life for herself that is more fun and more useful, to make more win-wins for everybody involved, to be able to do more of what she wants to do, more of what seems most important to her.
She wonders if it is crazy to want to write a book, to be trying to write a book, some big scheme to do something useful, to make a good way for herself. She has to be honest with herself about how that involuntary voice in her catches her attention with certain ideas, shapes the way she thinks about her tactics and strategies, her assumptions, and the details of possible outcomes. She has to admit that there is a part of her that really does think she is capable of writing a book that is lovely and effective, a book that does something, that might help a person out, some person that maybe is struggling with some of the things she has struggled with.
When she is driving, she sometimes thinks about how there might be some person out there, some kid in a basement that nobody can help, and I wonder if maybe I could help them, because maybe I can understand some things in some way that others cannot because of the limitations of their understandings as imposed by some algorithm of raw cognition capability, capacity for awareness of alternative modalities in seeing the world, ego attachments, emotional reactivity and reaction styles, investment in perceived power, and all the other hangups that combine to distort perception and block understanding, to enter into a disjointed reality, where two people may be in a room having a conversation, but their experiences of what is happening and what is being talked about and what is best and what is needed and what, the fuck, is actually going on anyway, what the hell am I supposed to do, just let you not go to school, get up, move, go outside, be alive, be okay, be happy, I only want you to be okay, I only want you to be happy.
It must be agonizing to be the parent of a troubled kid.
My family spent thousands, and I am talking thousands, of dollars on trying to help me to not be unhappy, to not want to die. To not be crying and having despairing fits so often as I did.
She is sitting on her back porch, about to go inside and clean the kitchen, then meet up with her oldest child to drive to the bright road of stores and enter the slick purveyor of cellular technology, resolve an issue with a phone.
She is an adult, sort of. She feels sheepish when she admits that, really, she’s still just a kid, still just that same kid, trying to figure out how to feel good in her life, trying to be free, trying to make a life she can be good at.
She is a person with unique strengths and capabilities, valuable experience. She is also a person with limitations, both in her abilities and in her values, the things she wants to or is willing to participate in, whether or not she finds an action or endeavor ethical, worthwhile. Does this help or harm? Who does it help, who might it harm?
She is always figuring. Sometimes she figures right, and sometimes she figures wrong. Often there is no right and there is no wrong. There is just the tumbling phenomena of our lives unfolding.
In many ways, she is not an effective adult. She is beginning to embrace this as a wealth of information about who she is and what she is capable of. There are many things she cannot do. There are many things she can do. She can run up hills and she can spend days not talking to anyone else. She can feel awe. She can spend hours emailing herself on the phone, holding multiple realities in her head at once. She can help people make sense of their fear, solve problems in their lives, find ways to survive the gauntlet that is living.
She can draw, and paint. A little.
Her eyes close and her head rolls when she plays piano alone in the house.
She noticed that the white hydrangea behind the hexagon shed that she and her father built had, for the first time ever, small tendrils of blue edging into its petals.
She can figure out how to make a building.
She is not good at tying knots, but she is very good at untying them.
It is a couple hours later, and she is back on the porch, one of her regular ports, places to pause. She has written in a lot of different spaces during the past nine years of emailing herself, and she is almost invariably most comfortable on her porch, though can achieve that ease in writing in other settings, parks and strange rooms, airports.
She hasn’t yet figured out where the best place for her to write fiction might be. She has written characters and brief dialogue, brief fictive actions, made-up settings while here on the porch, but her life sleeps in too much, and she gets distracted by the wonder of her sitting there writing about one thing, and thinking about other things, being in one place in her mind, her body in another place.
She went to the phone store, and they were playing Weezer and The Doors. The Solutions Manager wore a top knot man-bun and had sparkly eyes. The scene was chill and she stretched by the phone cases. On the way out, her oldest child held the door for a grandfather and the toddler he was carrying, and it was a small, important act in the world.
There is a softness in the sunlight of today. Some days are like that, like this. Benevolent.
She knows that this is only her experience, and that all around her, the day is toothy as hell and difficult for all sorts of people, all sorts of creatures.
Her day is nice though, and she feels curious about what might happen next.
Her best friend is going to be in the wilderness for 7 to 10 days. She wonders if she can write a book, out together a book, in the time that he is gone. She wants to have the experience of telling him, “Well, I finished Phase 1.”
Phase 1 is a document that can be refined into a book.
Depending on how she thinks about her vast digitally-stored slushpile of narration and efforts, it’s possible she finished Phase 1 a long time ago.
Perhaps this is Phase 2, the construction of a secondary document which is partially made of parts of other documents, other writings. Excerpts of formerly immediate experience presented as glimpses of how she was thinking, what she was thinking, what she was doing during the months she was losing her mind.
She has very little interest in writing a straightforward recovery story, or mental health memoir. That is not what this is.
She thinks of it more as a study of experience, an inquiry into the ways that her own experience unfurls and how some sets of factors can collide to catalyze transformative processes, which sometimes look a lot like going crazy, like a nervous breakdown.
If one’s capacity to cope is exceeded by what they must cope with, they must either find new ways of coping or change the things they cannot cope with.
If they cannot do these things, functionality collapses, the system collapses.
It is now the next night, and the day is a collage of sunlight and traffic, the smell of stores, the smell of the house her parents live in now, out at the edge of the county, tucked back into a little seam at the base of the hills that roll on out toward the flat land to the east. Conversations with her children, small transactions. Intermittent laughter and her usual thinking.
Yesterday, she was certain that she could do this thing, put it all together in a week for the pleasure of completing Phase 2, and of being able to tell her best friend that she had done a remarkable thing. He had been doing remarkable things, walking over mountains at a clip of 25 miles a day.
She had been getting by, muddling through days that felt heavy at the edges, sad at the center.
The plan was for him to go and be out in the world, to walk over mountains, to be free in that way. She would stay, because she has to, because of how her life is. However, she would work on changing her life, moving toward the goals she had set for herself, her plan to create a life that is more useful, more fun, a life that she is better at living, a life better suited for the person she is.
She wants everyone to have good lives. Lives that allow for and nurture the best that a person might be. Lives with ample freedom and beauty, freedom from fear, a feeling of peacefulness.
She is a naive idealist, and doesn’t understand why a part of her feels sad when she admits this to herself.
It is a simple hope she has, a child-hope. “I just want everything to be okay for everyone.”
Last night, it seemed entirely possible for her to spend the next five days writing every chance she gets, to just stretch out the thread and trust that what needs to be told would be told, that she will find the pieces of writing that correspond, that supplement, that she could manage to put something together that she might be able to work further on, perhaps even seek help with.
She imagines writing the email, explaining her project, seeking assistance or consideration, and she wonders how that would feel, to finish something enough that she could show it to other people.
She thinks about everything she might need to do to prepare to ask for feedback, the editing, the tidying and updating of her digital self, her archival self.
Then she thinks about all the other things she needs to do and feels a tightening in her head, a pressing on her chest.
She pushes these things out of her mind. “You can do all of the things. All of the things will get done.”
Last night she ran up a huge hill, 650 feet of elevation gain in a mile, and then kept running for another hour, down through the arboretum.
She is trying to think about this like running up hills, how you just keep going.
The difference, however, is that when running, there is often a trail, and here – laying out these words in their accumulating lines – there is not trail, just a rough path, a fuzzy list of things that must be accounted for and a vague idea of how I might put it all together.
She can feel a familiar doubt, a slide in her footing. “This will be utter shit,” a voice rises in her, and she counters with a brief recollection of a couple of moments that she knew she had said something worth saying.
For months, she has held the idea that maybe the only thing she can do is her best, to not try to make it anything it isn’t, to let it be what it is.
This is a layered account of one atypical American woman’s experience of being different and losing her mind, about how she almost lost her kids trying to prove God with clouds even though she didn’t really even think she believed in God.
This is a story about how she got better, about how she learned to understand her experiences in a way she could work with and improve, about what helps her to feel better and what does not, about what she needs to feel well in her life, who she is and what she can and cannot change about that.
The primary reason she is writing this is that sometimes, as she mentioned, she has a strong sense that there might a kid in a basement somewhere that is losing their mind.
That is something that is happening right now.
Part of her knows that, hey, if this important, if you want to be able to actually reach people, you have to make sense and make it worth people’s time. You can’t just throw a bunch of writing together and expect anyone to take the time to read it, even if you think it is important.
Why is this important to other people? What’s in it for them?
What impact might this have on their lives, if any?
She is in her room, eating dry corn cereal and wondering where she is going with all this.
Oh, man, it is so clear to me, this ongoing pattern, where I am on fire with confidence and vision for two and half days, and then the bottom drops out somehow, and I look at what I have done and think, “What shit.”
I stumble. I falter. My vision is gone. I feel silly for having felt confident.
In the kitchen, right now, there are pots clanging against one and other and I cannot figure out why. There is no breeze. Nothing was touched. It may be the vibrations of what sounds to be a large truck out by the street. The cumulative build of small motions, enough to unsettle the largest pan, tip it into the next-to-largest, make a small pinging noise.
I decided I would try to video it, but was only able to capture this one slight turn. Sometimes watching makes things not happen. Trying to see sometimes makes it impossible to see.
It is afternoon, a couple days after I was all, “Yeah! I can totally put this together in a week. I can be diligent! I can be determined! I AM Determined.”
It’s worth noting that I had had insufficient sleep over the previous few nights, because I had pushed myself to stay awake to be in touch with a friend who is far away, because they are not always able to be in touch.
Usually, when I don’t get enough sleep, I kick past the fatigue into a peculiar adrenalized vigor. After work, I ran 7 miles at the arboretum, and then came home and began writing what I was certain at the time would become the foundation for the construction of this project that won’t leave me alone until I complete it.
That is the truth.
I don’t know why I cannot just let it be. Forget about it. Move on to something else.
That might be the healthiest thing that I could do, and yet when I think about doing that, forgetting about this project, doing some other project, going in a different direction, setting it aside, putting it out of my mind as thing that I ought to do, I feel a rush of heavy sadness, and imagine myself flip-flopping into a future where, surely, there will be a small note of regret until the day that I die that I never did tell that story.
My heart feels heavy as I write this, because I know better than to care too much about doing any particular thing, and I know that the contracts we make with ourselves about what means what and why can create some mighty fucked up feelings, distorted perceptions of reality.
It is totally feasible that I could mightily enjoy my life and never care about the telling of this story, that it never trouble me, this thing that I did not do.
The pans are making noise again.
It must be vibrations, a perfectly angled breeze.
While my rational mind must agree with the possibility that this project is an unnecessary waste of time and that maybe I could be happier without it, there is still that heaviness in me when I think about discontinuing my efforts, aborting this beginning along with all of the other beginnings.
I have known plenty of people who’ve thrown entire years of journals into the sea, who’ve burnt letters up in campfires, who’ve thrown the records of themselves into the garbage with the cat litter.
She feels the familiar resolution.
She is not going to give up, she is going to keep going.
at the rising end of their short lives.
Looking back through old writings, trying to figure my way forward, I have noticed a tendency to romanticize in reflection. In many of my writings about those seasons of disjuncture, that time I spent immersed in a reality that, alas, may not have been entirely real, I seem to focus in on the ways it was amazing, the ways the world became new and richly beautiful in the way I was seeing it, the wash of awe and wonder.
I avoid, it seems, any telling of the fear, the disorientation, the frustration and wild, desperate hope.
She is sitting on the front porch in the middle of the night. This is not unusual for her, at least not over the past few weeks. Her body is fully awake, almost jangling. She spent hours in front of the computer, loading the day’s photos, studying them, trying to find the ones that most clearly show what she had seen.
As she writes this, years later, she can feel her heart beating faster, remembering. It amazes her, the way her body responds to thinking about certain times, the ways that her mind is pulled along with the trembling that comes up at the edge of her, the whirling collage of images and thoughts that suddenly crop up in the background of her headspace.
She notices the use of the word ‘whirling’ again, that movement word, and she thinks she ought to make a picture of this, how so much clutters (also a word she has used before, to describe her mental environment) and then all the sudden a dozen examples, pictures she has already drawn, come to mind.
This is part of how her mind works, she understands, part of what makes her a poet, how the pictures in her head make her feel, how she tries to name that feeling.
She observes a reflexive self doubt, a sheepishness in calling herself anything at all. A poet. A writer. An artist. She is a mother, a screw-up, a community mental health worker. She barely has her shit together.
Oh. The feels.
All of this is true. Every word.
However, it is only true in some frameworks of understanding, and – in many ways – it makes perfect sense, that she would be living such a bumbling, constricted life in the things she is doing. The limitations in the ways she exists outside of her own mind, who she is on the basis of her observable endeavors and her efficacy in those affairs.
She is not really a screw up, not in the broad span of all the ways people can totally fuck up their lives and create harm to themselves and others.
She is actually a pretty good mom, and occasionally, and in some ways, is a great mom to the young people who are her children. She does well at work, has maintained employment at the same organization for almost 8 years. She wants to do different work, and has put in her resignation three times over the past two years. She has stayed though, because it is the reasonable thing to do. She cannot leave until she has some other way to earn enough to buy food, to pay bills, to provide shoes for her children.
She has no savings account, no health insurance. No 401k.
It is costing her to stay at her job, because as much as she tries, she has not yet been effective in simultaneously creating new work for herself and maintaining her current employment. So, she treads water, shows up, keeps thinking and trying.
She does not want to go get another job in the mental health system, go through all of the training and orientation, sit in those environments, under those fluorescent lights, to have to learn a whole new set of coworkers, a whole new set of workplace norms, to have to learn a whole new group of people she would work with, new practices.
She feels a crumbling dread at the thought of it, and knows she cannot do this. She doesn’t want to do it.
“Oh, boohoo, you don’t want to do it. Well, people do things they don’t want to do every day. All over the world. Think about it, all the things that people do that they don’t want to do.”
She isn’t strong like that. She might be able to be, if she killed a part of herself, her raw instinct of what is good for her and what she enjoys doing. The way it feels to powerfully want to walk out of a room, to go be outside, to be writing or making art, to be at ease, to not be at work.
God, she is spoiled.
She wants the world to be a place where nobody has to do things they deeply don’t want to do, where nobody has to degrade their vigor in living to earn a wage, where nobody has to harm themselves or to be harmed to feed themselves, to have shelter over their heads.
I want to live in a world where people are supported in doing more of what they love, being more of who they really are.
She is so naive.
She forgets where she was going with this, and recognizes another tendency in her…that where she ends up going is the bigger picture. Even the smallest little thing involuntarily and irrepressibly blooms out macro.
She scrolls back up the page, trying to figure out what she was talking about. Oh, yes, she is sitting on the porch in the middle of the night, and her body is wide awake. She had been looking at cloud pictures for hours, adjusting the contrast, marveling at the way they looked like they had bones, a perfect composition in density.
Now, she sat on the porch in the middle of the night, fervently thinking about how she might manage to tell someone, to tell someone what she saw, what she noticed, what she thinks it might mean, such a simple and amazing idea! It could change everything, could make everything stop. She looked over to the east, to the ridge line where the cellular towers are, and sees that the moon is there, low over the mountain, where the sun rises. It is glowing bright gold and is a crescent on its side, lit from below, a slow smile over the dark hulk of land, due east.
Her mind reeled, and her face lit up. She began to tremble with the strangeness of it. It was the middle of the night. The moon was in the wrong place. It had the wrong look. It was not right.
It was beautiful, but hung at the wrong place in the sky.
She wanted to tell someone about it.
It is not unusual for she and her mother to exchange commentary on matters such as the moon, or the weather, birds in the yard, the general natural world. She knew she could call her mother in the middle of the night if she really needed to. A part of her briefly wondered if it would be strange to call her mother in the middle of the night to tell her to look at the moon.
It’s behaviors like this that caused her family concern, because while it is not inherently strange nor inherently problematic to want to spend the day doing art work and considering big ideas, these interests must not compromise the endeavors that one’s life is structured around. Working and raising children. They must not cause one to act bizarre, talk about postmodernism, or stop in public to take pictures of the sky.
Being as naive as I was, and still am, I really didn’t think there would be a problem. I mean, art is good, right? Spirituality is good? Right? Taking time to reconnect with yourself in the wake of a difficult year is good?
None of these things are inherently problematic, not in the slightest.
However, it was the way I responded to the pull I felt in me to be still, to look around, to spend time in the familiar feeling of myself, alone and doing artwork. It was the way I responded to my inspiration, and it was the convergence of multiple factors in my life circumstances and relationships that drove me to quick slide my way into what, reluctantly, is best described as psychosis.
It would be easy to cob together a causality structure that blames the whole thing on my mismedication, or on my decidedly rough divorce. I have done that, at certain times, explained it all away as the fault of factors external to me, as something created in me as a reaction to or as the result of the actions of others. Like, I was totally fine, and then this doctor increased this dosage and that guy was being a real fucking jerk when we have to talk about the kids…and then I went crazy.
That’s not exactly the whole story.
In reviewing my reflections and assertions from that period of time and the months prior I notice that there are definite themes that tie into what, over time, in a barnacle-ing of thoughts and beliefs and patterns in perception, became a psychotic episode.
In the first week of writing about my drawing everyday for a year, I am writing about perspective, and about reconnecting with seeing the world in different ways, the strangeness of my life.
I am already grandiose, imagining my coworkers learning about my website, the drawings. I am triumphant at 3 weeks, foolish and noob.
There is a rise and fall in tone. Victorious and maudlin, writing about the rain.
When I think about my behavior and communication over the fall and winter and spring before I went psychotic about the clouds and thought I was supposed to prove god, that there was some big plan that I was somehow involved in…well, I can see “signs” that I was already beginning to get a little magical in my thinking, a little exuberant in my behavior and communication, slightly edgy. Hypomanic, hypermagical.
It had been a long time since I really considered myself bipolar, but I knew I had a difficult time. I was doing okay though. Employed full time at the museum and getting the kids to school on time. My marriage had fallen apart, but I was okay. Adjusting.
I remember finding The Icarus Project when I was researching creativity and mental illness, bored at work and wondering why I was feeling so mercurial. Reading the text posted on the screen, I was surprised to find myself identifying with it. “Yes,” I thought, suddenly remembering all my hospitalizations, all my medications, the scar on my arm. “My life has been affected by mental illness.”
I honestly hadn’t really thought much about my history of mental health challenges, despite the fact that I had a prescription for lorazepam and venlafaxine from my primary care physician. Just to help me cope with the stresses of being a working mom going through a divorce. Not because I was mentally ill.
I had stopped disclosing my mental health history on doctors forms, because I was ‘over it.’
I adopted a bias of omission in my thinking about it, my identifying with the experiences of being mentally ill, having mental health crises. I chalked it all up to a fucked up adolescence, and could see a little of how it all went down, how I was a kid with problems and those problems led to other problems. I was an adult now. I was better. I had gotten married and was maintaining a household and being a very good mom. I was not mentally ill. I was solid.
Except that I cried a lot, and was edgy as hell. Distractable and overwhelmed as my marriage fell apart under the stresses of two people ill-equipped for one another, for trying to build a life together, two people going about the whole thing all wrong, all wounded, all confused about who they were and whether they were happy, frustrated and tired in their busy, crumbling, life-building lives.
I was a little concerned about myself. I had started to feel that sinking into myself, that pull to be alone, that panic in having to talk with people. Things had started to get loud.
It was harder not to cry. I started to lose weight, smoke more. My eyes took on a wild glint through the fall of 2009.
I remember a lot of the years before, the years of my marriage and its decline, the kids’ youths, them being babies, the years before I met their father. I could, if I started from the beginning, probably remember quite a bit, in image and sensation. A lot of my life, the experiences I have had.
I probably could find a bigger pattern in my evolving wellness and/or lack thereof, a series of seasonal rises and falls, year after year, a larger curve, while segments of years between crises, a slow build, a month to month wave pattern, the spikes and flatlines of a long day, any day.
I have wondered if getting swine flu that winter, and having that fever, that pneumonia, if that created a critical state of inflammation in my brain. It might have. It certainly did for a moment there, when my whole body was exploding with pain and I couldn’t move my limbs from the floor in the hall.
I don’t know how an illness like that affects one’s mental health.
I was quite ill.
She becomes aware of a familiar doubt as she considers the few dozen pages compiled over the past several days.
“It won’t make sense to anybody.”
She feels a dampening in her spirit, wonders if she ought to go on. “You’re supposed to have all this worked out,” she thinks to herself, her mouth set in a half-frown, considering. “A book is supposed to be polished, coherent. It is not supposed to include your doubts.”
There is a quiet, bargaining voice in her, that says that maybe this is what her book is, that maybe her book tells about the process, tells about the doubts, tells about how difficult it is to tell…
“Who wants to read that?!” It is almost laughable.
“No.” She says. “It’s not laughable. It’s real.”
She feels a standing like her fists at her hips, squared-off like that, something like indignant, something like defensive.
Takes a deep breath. “Maybe, if nothing else, if I do my best in the time that is available to me, and I put together something the best I am able to, and I show it to somebody…they will see that I need help with this project, and they might know someone who could help me.”
My god, she thinks, is this whole thing a cry for help?
She wrote almost 3,000 words in the morning, without even having to try much at all. She just kept writing.
I don’t know how I talked them into letting me change schools so much, why they went to such great lengths to try to find something that worked.
I guess they didn’t have much choice when I started flat-out refusing to go, became violent when they tried to make me go.
I got kicked out of St. Patrick’s two months into my eight grade year, because of the incident with the stealing of the peppermint schnapps and the being-a-passenger on an idiotic joyride.
I finished the year at Mary Lee Clark Middle, but was different. My hair was still permed, but I stopped spraying my bangs up. I still hung out with some of the same kids I had hung out with before, kids from the subdivision, Navy kids, but I was different.
I had joined the ranks of kids who got sent to Charter. There were lots of us, at least a half dozen, people’s older or younger brothers and sisters. Mostly brothers, mostly because of drugs.
…was in the forest over by the arboretum, running for a long time. It gives me peace.
Hey, I was thinking a little at the beginning of the run, and I ended up writing a lot at the end of this message. It’s pretty strident, but also compassionate…sometimes it is hard for me to see people play out the same patterns and end up in the same places.
I know it’s waaaaaay not that simple…but, I don’t know what to do to help, other than be here
( albeit remotely, because a/I am locked into a determined flow around a longstanding project and b/never much hang out with anyone anyway except for one or two people who seem to be able to understand my asociality and need for nonanthropocentric time. I’m usually pretty wiped out as far as the realities of other people’s lives after work and being a mom and stuff. I don’t have the social capacities to maintain moderate or even light friendships in any proper sense)
I can help you to brainstorm solutions or coping or ways out of this, explore other options…but, I can’t do that too much, because then I run the risk of being in the position of being someone’s only person, and that is not a safe social space for me to be in, nor is it safe for the other person, especially if they are vulnerable to abandonment, because of the way I am, I can drift quite a bit, or become resentful due to falterings in my ability to maintain boundless compassion, or unmet needs for self care that cause me to become anxious and fray at what I perceive to be scarcities in time and attention and spirit.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to be a support for you, but I am not sure how to best support you. I want to be there for you, but have to recognize the limits of my ability to do so, within or outside of the role of being a person you met at meridian that you have a unique and powerful seeming connection with, that is kinda awesome and rare and something to be taken seriously.
I guess my knee-jerk thing would be to be like “faith you’re being selfish you have to help ______ however you can because she has no one.”
“Forget the rules of not involving yourself socially with people you from work, both your rules and your organizations rules.”
“Be human. You have to help the other human. It’s the only thing that matters.”
But I recognize these reasonings to lead down the murky path of taking responsibility for fixing someone else’s life out of a sense of ethos and guilt…and, man, I can’t do that.
Anyway, I guess I wrote a lot here, too…and I’m sorry if it’s like, whoa, wall of words. I care about you and respect you and want to be there for you…but, I have to be transparent about my capacities and limitations in being a good support, even to a person who I know it is really important to support.
Okay…I have to work on the project for a while…check in though…try to be okay. Sit outside. Breathe. Remember who you are. I, at the moment, am long winded. sorry…
I’m sorry you’re in the situation you’re in…and that you feel like you will never be ok again…
Try to see out of the world where the people you choose to care about and let into your life hurt you and leave you…
I will be around the place next week, but not sure what my schedule is just yet…
You’re not a burden…*and* you can’t live life longing for a anchor with other people, especially if the people you drift toward are sinking ships that you (and I totally get this and it comes from a good place) you want to help because you believe in them and care for them…but, it is not up to you to save all the complexly wounded and crashing and burning people. Ultimately, people only save themselves…or they don’t…and that is a sad reality.
You’ve chosen to be there for people who *cannot be there for you* who *cannot love you* with any sort of real love with integrity…which hardly anyone can love anyone with anyway…but, really, this is a bad situation…and you have choices and options as to how to proceed, not just in your actions, but in your spirit, too…you can choose what you let destroy you…and what you let sever you from your connection to everything that is so much bigger than any argument or hurt caused by people…there are things in this world that will never let you down…and they don’t want or need anything from you, and your joy feeds the wind and your loneliness will go away when you are not scared anymore to be alone.
||Tue, Aug 14, 2018, 8:45 PM
This morning, driving to work, she thought about this project, and how she knows how to proceed now, what it is and what it isn’t. What it could be. She is confident she can be the niche in multiple markets. She feels sheepish when she admits this to herself, wonders if she is being grandiose. She considers the facts as she understands them, taking into account that she doesn’t understand quite a bit about anything, even herself, her perception of who she is and why her lived experience as a human being might be worth talking about. She doesn’t know if it matters that she was one of the unseen twice exceptional kids of the late-70s and early 80s, who was not exceptional enough in either aspect of her exceptionality – her brightness and her difficulties – to cause concern or garner interest beyond correcting for a speech impediment in a small dark classroom on the short hall by the library, through the breezeway, past the sidewalk down to the street, under the pines, the town beyond, a small, dark classroom where she sat with a man who was nice enough in beige and who explained the sounds I needed to make in order to learn how to say my own last name.
(There is the first person again, slipping through.)
There were other kids in the class, a boy with cerebral palsy and bright orange hair, a clattering brace on his leg, a girl from Sand Hill Road, across the highway, right past the tracks where the nuclear protestors had started to lay down, right there on the tracks, trying to stop the trains.
The girl had a lisp.
I don’t think they ever stopped a train.
I wasn’t thinking about any of that when I was in the speech room, which was also the Special Education room. I was thinking about how to make a rrrraaaawwwwrrrr growling noise, trying to make my mouth make the sound. Trying hard, as hard I tried to write the lowercase cursive r, my hand always drawing a wave instead, almost a u.
My hand remembers the feeling of the warmed and slick-wet carton of milk that waited by the classroom door for me when I rejoined my class after speech. I missed milk break, and drank my chocolate milk silently, hand dripping sticky water onto my desk from the sour carton, nubby fibers of cardboard brown with milk.
I was not identified as having any learning disabilities or differences. I did well enough.
I could figure things out, learn how to get by. I was a participant observer from a young age. This is likely due to the fact of growing up in the woods, and maybe seeing other kids now and again, spending time with the family of a fellow park ranger, or some random mom-friend my mother had somehow made, who we might see one or twice, and then never again. I spent my early developmental years primarily in the company of my immediate family, my parents and my little brother, and my great-grandmother, the women who worked for her, and the tiny sinewy woman from Folkston who rented the little white house behind my great-grandmother’s big White House.
Her name was Ruby, and she sat in a big white chair along the same wall that my great-grandmother sat in a replicate big white chair. They sat there together all day long, facing forward and talking with one another, looking over the expanse of the heavy side table that sat between the chairs.
My great-grandmother was an old white woman of withering relative wealth. Born in 1894 to a Georgia State Supreme Court Judge whose picture is hanging up in that building with the gleaming golden dome that you can see right there from the highway.
When I was very little, I didn’t know a thing about what it meant to be an old white woman of withering relative wealth in the Deep South, or how my life was any different than any other people’s lives, except I liked being at home, in the woods, much more than I liked being in town, where it was crowded and bright, even though when I was little the town of St. Mary’s only had the two lanes of Highway 40 running to turn into Osborne Road, go down by the river, to downtown, where there was only the Cumberland Island office, and the shrimp boats and the Riverview Hotel with Seagle’s Bar tucked right there behind the old tall windows, under the second story balcony that was the tallest building that we had in town except for maybe Plum Orchard, which was the Greek Revival broad-lawn gem on a big corner lot. Except for the paper mill, the Gilman Paper Company, heaving out plumes of acrid smoke that hung over town if it was foggy, and caught winds all the way over the edge of town. The mill rose out of a bend in the road like a chaos of pulp pyramids and broken out windows, ladders and pipes and smokestacks and train cars.
She didn’t think much about it, other than it smelled, and her dad told her that he worked there for about a month, and that walking on the floors had eaten the soles off of his shoes because of all the chemicals.
At the place where I work, they call call crying or getting angry a ‘Big Moment.’ These can any sort of upset ranging from benzo-withdrawing panic attacks to despondent fits of suicidality, a relapse, a slip, a cut on the arm, voices in the dark.
Someone being sent to the hospital usually isn’t call a Big Moment, it’s called Had-to-go-to-the-Hospital. A disorientation of finding you can’t move your wrists, the blur of the nurse behind you, your mother crying on the phone or sounding wooden.
I read over the assessment, the “evident psychosis,” the “flight of ideas” and even “word salad.”
I didn’t feel anything, not like I used to. For a long time, clinical language – the words of diagnosis, symptoms – caused a small flood of feels, a sheepishness, a tight ball of defiance, a morbid curiosity.
The made-up and Latinate syllables are strangely loaded, whole stories encased in black type, literal codes for human experience. Signifiers of something much bigger, much more personal, than the word psycho.
She understands that people need to be able to describe things, to name them and to understand how they work, what they mean. They need to know what to do, especially if something is a problem, if it destabilizes the organism or the colony, the clan, the family, the community.
They must be able to name the problem, to know what the problem is, before they can do anything about it. So, they give some problems names, and when they see something that looks like that sort of problem, they will give it the name they know to describe it, to help them to make sense of what, exactly, they are dealing with here.
Some things – a great many things! – are only problems in the context of the system that they occur within.
If the system cannot be changed to solve the problem, the problem must solve itself by ceasing to become a problem, adapting functionality within the system. If the problem cannot adapt to become less of a problem, the system continues to destabilize and pushes to resolve the maladaptive problem create a myriad of outcomes.
Okay. The thing is happening where I lose focus. A lot of thoughts rolling around in my head.
Myriad out outcomes is murky as hell. Be specific. What are you talking about?
She wonders, sitting on the floor at work, during the Tuesday morning meeting, rocking slightly back and forth, if the clinicians that she works with have diagnosed her, have noticed that she meets diagnostic criteria for at least a handful of Axis 1 and Axis 2 disorders.
She knows they can’t help it, that that’s part of how they’ve been trained to think about things, to observe and notice things, to describe aspects of human behavior through a clinical framework of functionality in Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and pathology, symptoms of disorder, illness, crisis.
She thinks about the people who come to the Recovery Education Center in the same way, with words and classifications attached to them; she knows what’s in their Electronic Client Record, the diagnostic codes, the descriptors. She thinks about these things, because she knows the words mean something, mean that a person was seen in some way that suggests a tendency toward engaging in behaviors perceived by the diagnostician. The words mean something to people, and they list them off, a string of diagnoses recited like catechism, like a sentence, like badges. Like they will tell her something about who they are, or what they are like, and they do tell her something, suggest certain likelihoods in how a person might behave or think or feel or react. Relational styles, cognition tendencies. Patterns of fluctuation, instability. Stress vulnerability.
The words don’t tell her much though, and sometimes they tell her the wrong thing, the wrong diagnosis, a biased diagnosis, a diagnosis made with partial information.
She wonders if it is because of the ways that naming a thing works that we are more likely to see what we think we will see, if it is confirmation bias that pulls us to find evidence of what we expect will be there.
Okay. Some days will be like this, where my writing will be off, my energy and focus off.
Sometimes there is no coherence, no flow, or just the hints of flow, pulling me this way and that, shiny ideas, things that catch my attention and then go flat.
I am reminding myself to keep going, to just fucking focus.
I can do it.
It’s just so big…
The first time she left it was a Dodge pickup truck, red like your daddy’s life that paid for it with a government check after all those chemicals, all that cancer, and it was Slayer and Pantera on the interstate over to Alabama, to your mother’s trailer out on a flat, flat road where it rained everyday and did not smell much like home.
She loved him for his long hair, his green eyes, his sadness. He had been there, to that place where she had been. She had visited him there, after he began to withdraw from the Xanax and the cocaine and everything else he’d been doing with the greasy haired head cook at the Huddle House, where he was also a cook, his hair in a ponytail. She didn’t know him. He was a military kid, whose family somehow landed, like so many families, there in the town she grew up in.
He lived in the north county though, almost out of the county, and she had dropped out of school, so she didn’t know him until she saw him at the Huddle House where she went to eat grilled cheese sandwiches, drink coffee, and smoke cigarettes in the corner booth wearing a heavy dark sweater, hair short and sleek and dark purple burgundy.
She introduced herself by writing him a poem, entitled Beautiful, in which she wrote in careful letters of what she questioned to be a quality of a minor god, a Demi-god, and concluded that no, it was his humanity, the something-like-sorrow in his eyes, that she found to be, predictably, beautiful.
It is easy, she learned, to make people fall in love with you through poetry, but only if you really feel something like love for them, or for whatever it is the poem is about, some small string of love, that makes a sound when you find the words that make the images that bring to heart the light that cannot be named, a certain feeling.
She loved him for exactly who he was, spindly and bird-like, with a fragile mouth but hard eyes, pretty hair, a dark side. Death metal. A dead father.
In the apartment in the basement on the hill in northern Michigan, when she was 17 years old, she burnt a ring in the old rose carpet, eating ramen noodles from a hot pot while watching reruns of The Golden Girls while the snow came down outside. They lost the security deposit when they moved out after their landlady overheard her screaming at her mother on the phone.
They were living in the upstairs walk-up over a garage at the end of a scrabbly, snow covered street when she left in the middle of winter, tired of the snow, of being away from home, of living with her boyfriend. She wasn’t even 18.
Her mother drove her home to Georgia, and she got food poisoning from a Burger King near the Ohio border, vomited and shat the whole night in a motel room, shivering. Sicker than she’d been in a long time.
She would go back to school, that was the plan, and she enrolled in classes at the Georgia Military College satellite that was out on the base, dispersed across meeting rooms and military classrooms around the base. She had to pass through security to go to class, be patted down to attend English Composition 101 in the Trident Training Facility conference room.
Aug 15 10:40AM
It’s a really challenging day with this project, like every known barrier in process and productivity is throwing itself down or clamoring up, tugging at my attention, scattering my thoughts.
I think I am tired.
I consider the utility of pushing forward, getting to a point where I am excited to work on this again.
Aug 15 1:45PM
This is not just the story of her “struggle with mental illness,” a telling of her diagnoses and symptoms, glittering and muddied accounts of the times she went to the hospital, shards of visual and dialogue to convey the grinding and falling of what she remembers in vivid detail as whole days, weeks, full of long punctuations and violent non sequiturs, volatility and intrusive thoughts.
Nor is it a recovery story, how she “got better” and learned to accept her illness, her disorder, found the treatment that worked, the right pill to take, the right way to calm down. How she has a good life now, and is – if not exactly normal – mostly happy.
This is a deconstruction and representation of a person’s experience, an imprecise analysis of being different, but not understanding the ways she was – and is – different, of being hurt, but not recognizing the wounds incurred as being wounds.
Because of the way she thinks about how experience is formed, how lives unfurl, she cannot tell the story of her disorder and of the various impacts it had on her life without telling the story of the place where she is from, the themes that informed her reality, her identity, her fear responses and how she feels when she feels happy, when she feels sad, what she wants to do when she is angry, what she thinks about, where her mind goes, what she makes of the world and herself in it.
This is the story of a project, into which an entire life seeped and then exploded, lines erased and reconfigured to spell out something she’d never seen before.
She would draw a picture everyday for a year, as simple as that. Lots of people do it. Something daily. A drawing. A photo. A haiku. Anything. They make a project, and do a thing everyday for a year, tell about it on social media, write about it.
So, she began drawing, and began writing about drawing, and posting her drawings and her writings on a website nobody read. She felt like everybody was reading it, or might start reading it at any time. Exposed.
She can see in her early writings how defensive she is, how she is already defending herself, learning not to care. She is already talking about perspective and the importance of doing things you love, of knowing what you love. She was already beginning to wonder who she is, and how her life had turned out the way it did.
Her marriage was dead. The father of her children was being a jerk. She was being passive aggressive. Working full-time, taking the kids to school, trying to help them through the transition of their father not living at the house. She thought a lot about how differently people can see things. She had to think about this, because everyone in her life seemed to be seeing something different, inhabiting an entirely different scenario. When she got upset because something sad or mean or impossible happened, and cried and closed my door, it was because I had a mood disorder, not because I was a human being whose life within her family had fallen apart.
Her husband knew about her mental health history, her disorder. He’d met her just a few months after she cut her arm open, but was “doing better now.” Happy, exuberant even, in the Portland springtime. Happy and still employable, because she had a degree and a few years of spotty experience working with people whose lives were a struggle, a lot of volunteerism, hanging out in parks with homeless people, having conversations. She had a job, and could tell her family things were going well. The sun was out. Her co-worker had magnetism, an accent from up north, dark eyes like hers.
He knew though, that she had had mental health challenges, had become terribly volatile while withdrawing from Effexor while driving cross-country in a van with two dogs in the wintertime, in her first trimester of pregnancy.
She had to get a psychological evaluation, because her ‘mental health’ had become an issue in the divorce, in the considerations of what was best for the children, only 6 and 8.
It is ironic that, at that time, she was a good mom, and was actually handling things rather well. She was a little stressed, a little edgy, but she was handling things okay, still working, getting the kids to school on time, picking them up on time, playing with them and trying to keep their lives happy even though their Pop had moved out and they cried more than usual. They cried a lot.
She tried not to write about any of that, because it felt weird to have her family’s life on the internet, but sometimes it slipped in, as lives do, and it helped her to see the situation noted in brief prose, small analyses.
It helped her to try to make sense of what she was dealing with, and to keep track of who she was in the midst of being a mother, and a museum worker, and a soon-to-be ex-wife. Sometimes, in those early writings, her tone is obnoxious, and the things she says are stupid and strange.
Mostly, though, she wrote about drawing, brief notes about the experience of posting, how she might like it on some days, be getting the hang of it, and then not like it other days, feel pressured. She made notes on the weather, brief mentions of mood and energy, activities, things she thought about.
Nobody read it, but she kept posting.
As the winter set in, the website became a place for her to talk openly with herself about whatever was on her mind. Her drawings were improving and sometimes interesting things showed up in the sketches.
She cannot trace the confluence of events that led to the steady and then profound decline in her mental health and functionality, the origin event that led to her radically launching into a different reality, in which she was an unrecognized genius and God was alive in everything, the world full of currents and signals and codes.
It is possible that she was already in an elevated state when she took the psychological evaluation in the sunny upstairs office on the north side of town. She was wearing a loose orange skirt, a purple top, bright green shoes. Her hair was platinum blond.
The questions were easy. The answers flew out of her. It was fun. She was a delight, a clever delight, as the sun slanted through the afternoon windows and spoke about her occasional anxiety, the lorazepam prescribed by her primary care physician.
She did not meet with the psychologist to review he results, just had the report sent to her.
She has spent the past 8 years trying to figure out how she really believed that she could prove God with pictures of clouds, how she really believed that what she saw in the sky was real and meant what she believed it to mean.
How did that happen in her mind, in the reality she was inhabiting?
At the hospital, they called it psychosis, and chalked up everything she was saying as delusional and grandiose. They noted her body odor. Wrote down her prescriptions. Gave her a shot.
She felt foggy and feral in the pale room. These people did not know her, they could not see how it could all make sense. She had started to believe that everything was a test, that she was being watched and evaluated, challenged in order to prove a point, that she was strong, that she believed, that she really believed.
How could she believe what she believed?
Aug 15 7:09PM
The idea that perhaps differences that result in difficulty is less a matter of disorder than it is a matter of diversity is not a new one.
Aug 15 7:48pm
The girl knew she’d almost died, when she fell the way she fell, right off of that swing at its high upward arc.
Aug 15 10:38pm
“We all have a secret self,” she thinks, listening to the night insects out on the porch.
She has been doing research on the internet about delusional disorders.
As she has been reading through her old writing, she has been struck by how crazy she sounds.
She knows she was delusional, but it was a glitch, a temporary thing. This is what she told herself, reflecting on those months of actively believing that she was somehow involved in an international consortium of enlightened people and influencers that were seeking to destabilize the economy, end wars, and ultimately save the future of humanity through a multimodal campaign of peace and justice. She believed that everyone was watching her, all the time, and that the task to prove God with pictures of clouds had been put upon her.
By actively believing, she means that this was the primary belief that shaped her perceptions of events and experiences, her dominant framework of reality. Sure, she knew she was also who she was, with her name and her family, her small little life. However, she believed that she was right on the precipice of proving something tremendously important, and that the evidence of the numinous that only she could present would surely help the world.
She believed that God, or something like God, was watching her all the time, and knew her thoughts, knew what was in her heart.
If she thought about it in just the right way, she could rationalize the glitch and it’s resultant craziness by considering her formative psychological constructs relating to awareness of interconnectedness in nature, exposure to revolutionary espionage plot lines in popular culture, and a protracted state of profound loss and life transition stressors that, in conjunction with an increased dose of a prescribed antidepressant, launched her into scrambling realms of hypervigilant analysis, an instinct to try to solve the problem of her life circumstances, to solve all of the problems, an amped up dopamine level reinforcing her preoccupation with stressful and exciting ideas that set off a profound motivation to believe almost anything she thought, but especially made her believe whatever made her heart beat fastest, what thrilled her and scared her.
She talks sometimes about her experience of psychosis, the delusions she held, but she doesn’t tell the whole story, she doesn’t tell anyone what she really believed, what she sometimes still believes.
She no longer believes that she is a part of an international revolution of consciousness and ethos, a new world order.
Aug 17 9:56PM
She doesn’t remember the specific thoughts or small actions she made around the house on the first day she tried to die. She recalls trying to write some sort of note, and giving up there at the small table, body wracked with a searing despair that turned her hand into a clawed fist gripping the pencil.
She has broken many pencils, trying to write something down while her body exploded, first snapping the lead, jabbing into the paper, then splitting the pencil in two, collapsing into sobs or standing up so quickly and violently that the chair scraped and clattered, sometimes fell.
It’s unclear to her, whether the memory of writhing in the darkened room as great rolling waves of grieving terror, sharp metallic dread, tore through her, clenching her jaw, kicking her legs, screaming into her pillow, tearing at it with her teeth…whether the memory of that, the image and recollected feeling of it, is from the day she tried to die, or a memory assembled of the many days and afternoons and nights she spent wailing in her room in the rented house on Hull Road, just outside of Athens, Georgia.
She’d wanted to die for four of the six months she was there, after she dropped out the graduate program in Sociology, got a Sexually Transmitted Infection from a person she met at the tattoo shop where she had wings tattooed on her palms in the heart of winter, and broke plans to go to New York with the girl who’d lived downstairs from her on 7th Avenue. The girl who had been her first best friend in a couple of years, who had the woman’s name tattooed on her arm when the wings were done.
The woman sobbed, angrily explaining that she could not go. She just could not go.
She was scared, because she did not know why she felt so upset all the time. Quitting school was a relief, a great decision. She hadn’t been able to do the work. It was too tedious, the research and reporting. The formatting.
On the metal cover of the old fireplace opening, she painted a full moon and a river, just like the one at home.
She saw the biggest moon she’d ever seen, driving west on the loop road. On the last day of the year, the college radio station played REM’s end of the world song for 24 hours straight, and she listened to it a few times, turned the radio off.
On the day after Valentines Day, she bought all of the day-old roses she could find, and strung them together into garlands that she hung around the house like she was hosting some kind of deadhead wedding party. She painted a near skeletal man, with a raven on his head, hated it because it scared her, because it was a good painting and the man was aghast, made her feel aghast. She painted a vaguely female form over it, but he bled through, and she slathered on silver paint, but she could still see the line of the bird’s back, so she faced it toward the wall and wasted the paint.
She was already depressed the day she moved to town, missing the misty air of the northwest and with the reality that she had just driven cross country with her mother, and was moving back to the South settling into her as twisted, trapped, oh-shit-what-have-I-done feeling in her gut. She didn’t want to die though. She wanted to be stoked. She wasn’t stoked, but she didn’t want to die. It was just depression. To be expected. A major transition. A new set of stressors, a whole new town to learn.
It was a foolish pride that bloomed in her about being a graduate student. Her father had shed a tear at her college graduation, and – perhaps because she was such a fuckup throughout her adolescence – she wanted to do well, and being a graduate student with a full assistantship was doing well, much better than expected.
She went into the program wanting to study either female boxers and gender identities, or the use of the still-new popular internet by white supremacist groups for recruitment and proselytization purposes. She’d gotten into the program with a mediocre essay lamenting that, growing up in South Georgia, she had been told “that’s just the way it is,” as a means of explaining basically everything from racism to war, and that this had seeded in her a desire to understand why things are the way they are. Sociology had given her tools to think critically about culture and economy, and had provided at least a little understanding of why things are the way they are, why there is racism, why there is war, why some people are poor and why some people are rich and why some people get into some truly outrageous shit.
She loved it, that way of looking at the world, questioning all the different ways that a situation could be seen, could be measured, could be explained.
Her exceedingly hip undergrad professor, whose mother lived on the very same island that she had gone to the adolescent inpatient unit on, who grew up in Georgia, gone to Emory, talked about Foucault, and had studied white supremacy with participant observation methodology, meaning that he joined up with the groups in order to learn more about them.
When he introduced the concept of being a both a participant and an observer, she realized that a part of her had been doing this her entire life, being a part of things, but not really a part of things, always a little disconnected, at the edges watching and wondering what she needed to do to fit in, to be a part of the group.
She had best friends, and semi-best friends. Assortments of people she was close with for a while, and then drifted from, became uncomfortable with, or awkward around, or she began to become an undesirable friend in some way, clingy or moody or unfun, uptight about small things, getting crazily upset over nothing. Not being chill.
“Do you know why they don’t like me anymore?”
They were sitting together in the Thai restaurant on the edge of NW Portland. They went up there to eat together after they fucked in her apartment. They were friends, still, but all the other friends they’d been friends with didn’t talk to her anymore, and she didn’t know why.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I really don’t know.”
She believed him and so stopped asking. She’d been ghosted by people before, and she’d ghosted people. She understood that sometimes things just change. She had friends, and now she had this one friend, who she slept with every so often and who she had had an epic penpalship the summer he was traveling and she was traveling, the fall and the winter before he came back, slowly dwindling to just a postcard or mailing every now and then, an inappropriate nostalgic letter sent years after she’d moved away and he’d gotten married. They were friends.
He felt something from her, he said.
People will say this to her sometimes, and sometimes she feels it, too, a sort of resonance or sense of connection in the space between herself and another person, a clarity in their face, the details of their eyes, their voice. It happens with old people and young people and handsome people and dirty people and big people and poor people and rich people and people of all shades of human skin.
She thinks now that it is oxytocin, that sharpens the senses and creates that sense of warmth. Dopamine, too, because it feels good, the oxytocin, and we want to connect with people, to be connected. She doesn’t know why she feels oxytocin more with some people than with others, the algorithms of connection.
Sometimes the connection is so strong and self-reinforcing that entire relationships, entire lives, are built like an arc around that certain feeling of having a real friend in the world.
She has had legendary and beautiful friendships. Life-saving adventures in simply loving the feeling of being around another person, talking with them. The solace and simplicity of being able to just be myself, because that is what makes the feeling.
“You were beautiful to me, the tattoo on your hand, that number thirteen on the back of your neck.”
She wanted to talk about big ideas, to find truth and justice. She did not want to use parenthetical referencing. The look of it was bloated and clunky, names tagged on to the edge of sentences as both awkward distractions and things she was supposed to pay attention to.
The winter after she moved into The Mitchell, she began to pause when she passed by the Grand Avenue Boxing gym on the way to the Lebanese restaurant where an acquaintance from the punk house scene gave her free spinach pies and bread on Friday nights. Every weekend, she would go to the library or to the used bookstore and she would look for books and read sections of books and find books to read through the weekend. Then, she would get an enormous amount of Lebanese food and stay in her apartment all weekend, eating corn Chex and cold shatta with hummus, reading and smoking.
She had started to pause by the boxing gym though, to glance sideways through the condensation on the glass, the sparse gear, the open space, the ring itself, the figures moving through the water on the glass, not fast like boxers on television and in movies, but almost clumsy through the fog, flurries of movement, long pauses, pacing. Yellow light light a painting on the rain-slicked sidewalk in the early-dark of late afternoon.
Aug 17, 10:39PM
||Fri, Aug 17, 2018, 10:39 PM
“A person cannot write a book that is all jammed up with their ideas about writing a book.”
What this means, in her mind, is that there is some rule (at least in her mind) that books ought to be what the book is about, not about the process of writing the book, or the author’s laments over how fucking hard it is to write the book, why it is hard, why every time they try to just tell the story, they feel like they are lying, like they are plastic, like they are telling a story, but not telling the whole story, or not telling it right.
That is not what the book she wants to write is about, not about how hard it is to write the book.
She wants to write the book, but is beginning to think that she cannot write the book, because writing a book is fucking hard.
“Especially,” she thinks, “the book I want to write.”
“That book might be impossible to write.”
She has a feeble hope that if she keeps writing, even if she is just thinking-writing her way through her options as to how to proceed from one or the other of one of the conceptual or stylistic impasses she encounters on every time she tries to add to the document that she is trying to make into a book.
She considers a possible summary,
“In 2009, a quirky mother of two who grew up in the woods of South Georgia and once was told she was almost a genius began a project to draw a picture everyday for a year.
As she drew and took notes on what she was thinking about, posting low quality scanned images to an unread website, her little began to fall apart in a series of small tragedies. A divorce, a dead dog, a lost job. By the following year, Faith Rhyne had spent months slipping further into an alternate reality, a psychosis, and was desperately trying to Prove God with pictures of clouds on the internet.
Faith did not intend to blog her way through psychosis, or to keep writing as she slowly muddled her way back to stability through developing an evolving understanding of her atypical tendencies and vulnerabilities and what she needs to do (and to not do) to keep her head straight and be able to live a life that she feels good about more days than not.
She never wanted to have a sad life, and when it seemed that her life had become sad, it made her sad.
Aug 20, 11:21AM
When the morning came, she pulled her body out of the bed, feeling out the soreness and strength of her limbs, her bones. She is always thinking. Even in the very early morning, even half-asleep. The thoughts are imaginings and ideas, sometimes stern voice messages from some corner of herself that blare out other thinking about the day, about herself. She has learned to keep moving in the morning, to get up, because if she doesn’t, whatever feels the thoughts might create might catch her, take hold, flood her first thing in the morning with adrenaline and cortisol, make her heart hurt, send her mind toward anger or grief, fear, the vast landscape of her insecurities.
She has learned that she can look to these thoughts, first thing in the morning, for clues about what her fucking baggage is, what belief or fear is running in the background of her life, and she knows – oh, God, she knows – not to listen to whatever detritus of her most fearful self is spun into her consciousness by some bad dream or avoided core conflict amplified by the early morning cortisol rise.
She is still surprised, again and again, by how real the world that is made up in her mind can seem, first thing in the morning.
“It’s the feelings.” She is sitting on the front porch, in the din of late-summer insects, the sky a low grey drum, holding all the sound close. Traffic moves by on the street below the house, buffered by the hedge-trees, the apple trees, the black locust, black walnut, silver maple, Virginia creeper growing through it all. It’s still loud, the rush and sucking, rolling hum of tires on the street.
Monday morning, and here she is. Same as it ever was. (Talking Heads) Smoking, still, the hand-rolled cigarettes that she knows with a gravity of knowing that makes her pay attention will likely kill her if she doesn’t stop, that already are killing her.
She always pauses when she thinks about it. Let’s that sink in, feel a little fear of death. Then she takes a deep breath, and pushes it away again, and she knows she should not do this, that she should feel that fear deep, that she should learn to see cigarettes as snakes, smoke as sulphuric acid.
This is part of her ‘routine.’ The sitting out on the porch, smoking too much and trying to write a goddam book. She does this in the mornings, and she does this in the nighttime.
She does this every chance she gets, because it is one of her favorite things to do. She likes to sit other places, too, Parks and old broken places, by water, docks, smoking and writing, or just thinking, thinking and feeling. The porch, however, is her habitual haunt, the most frequent place she finds herself, a place for long pauses in the movements between work and home, youth, and running. A place for the activity of trying to write the goddam book.
She shouldn’t say goddamn, since it’s disrespectful to people who might take offense to using the Lord’s uncapitalized name in vain, or something like that.
She knows that the dismissive tone of ‘or something like that’ could potentially be read as additionally disrespectful.
It’s unnecessary, she tells herself, to be antagonistic when it’s possible to not be, to be neutral, to play an even hand.
She doesn’t have to curse.
Words have power.
This, she knows, is absolutely true.
However, they only have the power that we give them, the feelings we couple with them, the way we allow them to shape what we perceive and experience, how we understand the world or ourselves.
She thinks about why she curses, and how sometimes the words give an emphatic charge to what she is saying, or the particular rhythm of their syllables melds well with the subject of said profanity. Sometimes, when she says “motherfucker” she feels like she could just about punch somebody in the face, and it feels good.
She can feel it right now, that little bit of sharp tang adrenaline, the rush of blood to her arms, the keening of her senses. Fine pale hairs raised from the blue roses tattooed down her right arm.
A deep breath, a small shiver. It’s gone. She’s moved into to something else. As she sits, there on the porch with her smoking and her book wrestling, she occasionally wonders what she looks like there, sitting on her porch. She doesn’t like to imagine this, who she is from the outside, because it disorients and disturbs her, opens the door to a smorgasbord of possible projections and unhelpful imaginings of how people see her.
Sometimes, like with the thoughts first thing in the morning, or the thoughts when she is feeling “upset,” she can notice what comes to mind in an inquiry of how others might see her as an indicators assumptions and beliefs, information about how she sees herself. She is so off-put by the fact that she still has ‘low self esteem,’ and it surprises her, just like it surprises her first thing in the morning, how real it can feel, to see herself as such a total fucking loser.
“I mean,” she thinks to herself, “I am not a total loser.” Then she quick-remembers that she is not a loser at all, unless being a loser means a person who has lost things.
If that is the case, she is a loser.
Everybody is a loser, if that is the case.
She imagines herself sitting there, too thin again in the late-summer, her glasses slipping off of her nose. Her hair is way too long. “You need to cut that,” her daughter tells her. Pointing like it’s something supremely distasteful, her mother’s too-long hair, held always in a thin braid that turned to coppery gold at the tips, the oldest end of the strands.
She forgets she has tattoos, even though she sees them, right there on her hand and on her wrist, the insides of her palms, to tops of her feet. These are the ones she can see, when she is sitting on the porch, her back convex, slouching over the phone she writes on, her sudden adjustment, the straightening of the spine, the pulling back of the shoulders, into a librarian posture that she will slowly slouch back out of. She is always taking deep breathes, to remind herself of the health and functional vitality of her lungs. She can run up hills, and though she knows she could run up hills so, so much faster if she did not smoke, she can run up hills. Big hills. Long hills.
“It feels so fucking good to breathe,” she tells herself this. Trying to deep-feel the breath in her, to really love to be able to breathe.
She spends an hour, sometimes two at a time out there. Writing on her phone, pausing to sit up straight, slouching back down, looking around, sometimes putting her feet up on the cypress bench her father made for her wedding a long time ago. Sometimes with her legs crossed, her foot moving, vibrating like a piece of marsh grass caught in a little current.
The house next door is a men’s Recovery house. A sober house. She wonders how they see her. They say motherfucker all the time, loud out on the porch, conversations on speaker phone. She laughs to herself, about what she would sound like if she used voice to text to email herself, instead of typing into a little screen like she does. Mumbling and imperious proclamations, didactic lectures to herself, frustrated goddam and motherfucker, how in the fuck is a person who is supposedly a person with a supposed mental illness who is a mom (at least for part of the week, for part of her life)…
There is a sudden break in train of thought, distraction by a reaction to the fact of her being a mom.
(She hears, in her thought-realm, an imagined perfect American mom say “Girl, your children are your whole life! Your whole life!” She imagines the expression, the open palm held up, pushing the strident words of whole life. She can only shrug in her imagined response.)
(These imagined people and their perspectives, what people might think made into caricature that involuntarily bloom into being, nudged by a thought. In this particular intrusion by a haughty perfect mom, the thought was the ever looming, “Am I a bad mom, because I sit here and smoke and write about my stupid life because of some stupid idea for a stupid book about the time I lost my stupid mind and fucked up my family?”)
(She has to laugh a little at the almost-cartoon stands of perfect moms rising from their seats, like a football game wave, but all at once, so many, all of them with clean hair that’s not too long, clean hands with no tattoos outstretched, pleading for her to get it, not even mean, but exasperated en masse, a whole stadium of them, saying, “Yes! Yes! Girl, you are a bad mom!”)
She is not a bad mom in the way that her children are sorely neglected, not abused or unloved. She loves her children, and is good to them. At least good enough.
She is a bad mom. Her priorities are fucked.
“This book is really causing problems in my life,” she thinks, sometimes. When she thinks this, she feels what a better writer would never dream of calling merely a great weight, but there it is, a great weight. Heart clattering like tin in the sun. Shoulders tensed in.
She knows that she could stop. She could stop the smoking and stop the writing of the book, the goddam book, and she could volunteer more and she could whole-heartedly throw herself into these last few years of stewardship in the lives of the young people that are her children, who are amazing people whom she loves dearly. She could make them central, devote her life to orbiting around their lives. She could work harder, clean more, and categorically disregard her needs, transmute her needs into her children’s needs, so that if all their needs are met, her needs are met. She could learn to have no needs. She could learn quick.
There is something not right about that though, not for her. Not in her family. Not for her children. They do not want her to hover over them and glom onto their every activity. They are good young people. Amazing.
She is grateful everyday that she does not have to put up with the sort of shit her parents put up with during her adolescence, her early adulthood. Her whole life.
Part of her wonders how having a kind of fucked up mom has shaped their individuation into the people they are. They are really good kids. Not perfect kids, or kids trying to be perfect. They just are who they are and do well in the things they care about. They both love school.
She hated school. Haaaaaaaaated it.
(She wonders if the American standard adolescent deviance from the perceived norms and preferences of one’s parents, as established by developmental processes as augmented by cultural tropes about rebellion and teenagers in The United States, causes some kids of good parents to turn toward delinquency and smoking?)
At work, she teaches the parenting class, and it’s okay that she is a kind of fucked up but good enough and maybe perfect for her kids mom, because nobody in the class is a perfect mom. Nobody has a perfect family.
It’s not just the book that causes problems in her life. The book is just a manifestation of the bigger problem that is the person she cannot seem to help being, her persistent self.
Her persistent self is not so severe as it once was. Still, there is severity. Like she severely knows that when she is not writing, or drawing, or making, with time to gawk around and think about things, or to clear herself of all her thinking, of she has to rush from one thing to another, existing only in service to other people, if she cannot have time to adjust her thinking and sort through her reactions to the environments and situations she must make her way through in the course of a day, she doesn’t feel well.
She doesn’t feel well in a way that makes it hard to do anything. An acrid sadness settles into her, and she becomes heavy in her thinking, slow. Stuck.
Her preoccupation with writing the book, or doing this painting, or some drawing, keeping her creativity alive, trying to find some footing in some project, is bound up with her desire to have a life she is good at and enjoys living within.
The jeering critics of entitlement and equity are right on the heels of this earnest wish for a better quality of life, mostly for herself, so she can be ‘who she is.’
“Why should you get to have a good life? A life you enjoy?” Oh, there is a feeling of pure scorn towards the notion that any privileged fool such as myself ought to have an easeful life when all over the world people are living lives that are wretchedly hard in ways her own life has not even allowed for her to begin to imagine. Not to even begin.
“Why should you get to be who you are when people are enslaved, enslaved. Enslaved.”
This is not even a question.
It rises in her mind like an accusation.
She knows that she should get over herself, be grateful for her privilege, her education, the opportunities she could take advantage of to advance in the ranks of the nonprofit behavioral health industrial complex, or work three jobs at the Burger King, the grocery store, some random place that is terrible to spend time in, doing something that is terrible to spend time doing.
Man, when she thinks about the jobs people do, she literally cringes, and she doesn’t, she knows, even know the half of it. Not even a smidge of the filth and poison, not a decibel of the loudness, a glint of the light, a shade of the dark, the smell of the blood and the shit.
She gets to lay down on the floor at work, and do body scan meditations, her palms laid flat on her belly, in a dim room with broken people she trusts because she knows their lives.
She is so lucky. She is so spoiled.
Why can’t she just be happy and effective in her life? Make the life she has be the life she is good at?
She can do that. She has been doing that.
She has been at her job for almost 8 years.
Her house is good-enough clean. There is always food. She is encouraging the youth to cook their own meals, to direct their own days and time in between busy schedules of cross-country, band, and honors academics. She drives them where they need to go. She feels moderately happy, with periods of intensified happiness and deep gratitude and love for her life as it is.
There is, however, also a certain ever-present yearning to have a different sort of life, a life where she had a reason to sit and write and gawk around, to do art work.
Is it so simple that she mostly just wants to do art, to write, because she feels so good doing it, so at home in herself?
She has tried for years to think and plan and diligently experiment with different ways to continue doing artwork in the context of a busy life, being the person she is, taking into account the ways she engages in her creativity.
There is something quiet and terrible about living a life where one often feels that they would be happier doing something else with their time.
Yet isn’t this what life is? Aren’t most people’s lives like that?
Her life has not been like most people’s lives.
She cannot do what most people might be able to do.
For years, she has tried, and for years the results are the same. If she tries to just have a normal, middle-class American life, with a focus on her children and her stewardship of them, with constricted and appropriate adult interests, nothing too weird, nothing to time-consuming…well, she begins to feel miserable and bitter. Wooden inside. She laughs less. Feels blank in who she is.
She has tried to get around this a thousand times, and she can muster different outcomes for a period of time, or manage to hold some awkward balance between her lives, the person at work, her motherhood, her being – in her most true self – that woman on the porch, smoking and thinking about why it is that she can’t just let the idea of the book go.
She understands that the idea for the book itself was born of delusion, and that that alone could be grounds for dismissal in the viability of the idea that writing a book is something she wants to do.
Sometimes she loathes, loathes, this aspect of her voice that is always explaining things to herself, going on and on.
She doesn’t feel like she needs to call the book the goddamn or God Damn book. It’s just a book. It’s a great book, a blessed-be glory hallelujah book.
Okay. Maybe it’s not that.
Aug 21 5:18PM
She back here again. Same porch, different day.
“Nothing is ever the same twice. There are too many variables, too many combinatorial possibilities. Even on a one inch square of tile, nothing is ever the same twice. Except for an atom, I guess. A molecule.”
She writes this into her phone, and listens to the mid-afternoon birdsong and breeze hum on a Tuesday. On any other Tuesday, she’d still be at work, watching the clock until she could get out of the air conditioning and go be in the forest somewhere. She runs further on Tuesdays than on other days, though she runs as far as she used to run on Tuesdays on the other days she runs.
She’s not running today, because yesterday she got stung by two yellowjackets, and her feet are waterballoons filled with an itching burn, swollen and red, like they’d been boiled.
She didn’t need to go home from work, but she could, so she did. The appointment she had cancelled, and she co-facilitates the class in the afternoon, so she just left it to her co-worker to cover.
Last night she only slept for a few hours, not because she couldn’t sleep, but because she stayed up late, texting with her best friend who was camping at the edge of a disaster-filled town in southern Alberta, sleeping under a tarp on the side of a mountain they call Hill 60, home of a graveyard and a prostitution history.
They were talking about spirit animals and trading banter about strange signs, an old white dryer with the word GARBAGE spray painted across it in a shade that looked very much like fresh blood. He told her about visiting the Frank Slide Interpretative Center, how the mountain fell over and sprayed rock for three square kilometers. She told him about the yellowjacket stings, one on each ankle, the left leg as she was running down the hill, the right leg as she was running back up.
She didn’t quite know how to articulate the questions she had about why she believes what she believes about some things.
This is the crux of her quandary, both in the not understanding why it makes so much sense to her that the yellowjacket might be trying to communicate something with her, or to teach her something, or that there may be more to encounters with the natural world than simple biologically and botanically driven forces at work, and in the difficulty saying anything at all about these things, in even formulating the question, even finishing a sentence, because the questions just go on and on about how it could that something works through the forest, or through animals, to embody them as messengers and teachers, how might that operate?
They unspool into everything, these questions.
She wonders if she’s crazy.
Then she thinks about the story she’d forgotten, the memory of running, crashing through warm late-summer leaves along the bank of the river, wheeling through underbrush to cut up to the main road and running, running right into a groundnest of yellow jackets.
She remembers stopping, but doesn’t know if she stopped.
She doesn’t remember anything else, but the insects flying at her everywhere.
Aug 21 6:16PM
Perhaps the big challenge with the book has been that she has been trying to consider how she might make the most use of her story, if she were going to try to make use of it in some way beyond it being, oh, just her life, seldom mentioned.
She understands that it might be much, much better for her to buckle down and try to, like, be normal for a minute, and write a straightforward mental health recovery narrative highlighting the role of integrative health and neurodiversity in…
“Ugh,” she makes an audible sound, sitting on the porch alone. “Psychosis Recovery.”
She knows that it wouldn’t have to be like that, that she could write some zany account of her struggles with mental illness and leave out all the half-ass deep analysis and big, deconstructive questions. She could leave out every single story that has anything to do with believing that the land might sometimes speak to her. There is little reason to go into detail about her intelligence, her cognitive processing style, the way that she conceptualizes ideas, experiences thoughts, and accesses memory. Nobody wants to hear about that.
They want to hear about the illness, the mental illness, and the recovery. The getting better part.
People need hope. They need to believe that they are not alone in their confusion and misery, that someone who maybe even had it worse off than them might be able to get better, that maybe there is some way to not want to die every single fucking day for waaaaaay to many seasons.
They don’t want to hear about how, in America, capitalist culture shapes ideals about what is normal and healthy, and about all the ways that these ideals are woefully biased toward functionality and social desirability in the marketplace, and don’t always have much to do with being healthy or sane.
She knows that the idea that capitalism makes people crazy and miserable (a stunning oversimplification) is not an especially new, or unique idea.
She doesn’t think that most people sit around the dinner table and talk about capitalism and how it is affecting their life choices and opportunities, how this economic model in the 21st century United States might be disastrous to people’s mental health.
She doesn’t know what people talk about?
Sports. Movies. Schedules. Food.
Do people talk about whether or not they are happy?
People don’t want to read about how she learned to be happy after being so tremendously unhappy for such a long damn time, do they?
She thinks she be of more use keeping it simple, introducing a well-researched and accessible compendium of perspectives on traumatogenic psychosis, the role of human learning in sensitized stress responses, and skills to shift biological processes to support optimal mental health and resilience.
Maybe she could leave her story out of it entirely?
That’s be a worthwhile book. She could write it. She knows the landscape of ideas, enough starting off points for research. She has a MA in Psychology from a progressive humanist school, and has worked with trauma-informed practices for years in the community mental health industry.
Aug 21 8:59PM
She wouldn’t say anything about the military, or how her hometown changed when the Navy came.
Maybe she would.
It’s a big part of the story of her mental illness, when the Navy came.
She isn’t suggesting a case of singular, direct causation, the Navy coming to her hometown, a place she thought of as hers, and changing it so dramatically that it became an almost hostile place, an ugly, quick-built place, with flashy cars and cheap housing, all the fast food, roads spreading out, the perpetual smell of hot pavement, of new asphalt, all of this catalyzing her mental illness.
It was a factor. A big factor. A fundamental destabilization.
She understands that some people will not agree with her and that some people will hate her. That they might call her names, if she manages to do this thing that she is trying to do, in which she writes a book that is useful and interesting, a book that starts conversations, that creates questions.
She asks a lot of questions.
One of the questions she asks, of herself, is this:
“What the fuck are you talking about?! Seriously, you’re just rambling on and on. Stick to a point. Finish a sentence. Focus, lady, focus.”
She learned how to pay attention to what she was thinking, and to be able to shift attention, but there is always some part of her thinking and interpreting and projecting mind that is just churning all the time, stringing together loose connections, chasing phrase and image, not even watching where anything is going.
There is something about writing like that that she loves.
Besides, she reasons, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the author of a work of creative narrative non-fiction to write of their thoughts and impression in the way that best represents, in their estimation, the modalities through which they experience the world?
She doesn’t think it would be entirely inappropriate. Unreadable, perhaps. Not inappropriate though.
As she was writing earlier, about her mind not watching where it’s going, she remembered the point she’d intended to make earlier, about the yellowjacket sting, her running through a groundnest. It’s hard to watch where you’re going if you can’t see what you’re trying to avoid. Nevertheless, watch where you’re going.
She has to think about this, where is she going, what is she doing, basically all day long. It’s not that she forgets, exactly, but sometimes she gets so lost in thought that she will realize, all of the sudden, that she is still at work, that she is arriving home. That it is Tuesday.
She didn’t go for a run today. Her feet are still swollen by the yellowjacket stings that she can half-believe, if she is in the right mindset, might be some kind of medicine from nature, some kind of lesson from universal thematic consciousness, or something like that.
Currently, they are simply stings incurred while running in the forest, disturbing a groundnest and creating an aggressive response in the yellowjackets.
They’re just insects.
Aug 22 10:41AM
I have wondered why I don’t write more, why I didn’t write more, about some of the beautiful things we did, we have done.
There is so much in those things. Those things we have done.
Aug 22 4:24PM
She has a remarkable memory for things that she doesn’t want to remember.
The EMS worker wheeling her past the washer and dryer by the backdoor, the flat black non-taste of medical charcoal. The smugness of the intern on the psychiatric unit, just a couple miles from the stadium and the campus, where the early Spring was filled with pink dogwoods and damp golden light. The intern wore shined black shoes with an old-fashioned, late-90s buckle across the top of his foot. It was the new millennium now, and he told her to quote taking money from her parents and get a job, smug, as if it were so simple as that, as if she were an idiot for not having figured this out.
Her hair was oily and lank around her face, lips pale and dry from the side effects of the medication, the inside air of the hospital caked into her mouth. She hated to speak, to be watched and listened to in places like that. She kept her arms around herself, aware of the fact that she was basically wearing pajamas, socks with rubberized tread.
Talking with the psychiatric intern, her vision was still blurry, two days after the toxic blast of what she’d taken. Her pupils still tight constricted by the opiates prescribed by a gynecologist for the persistent pain she’d felt in her abdomen that Fall, sitting in the hard chair of the lecture hall, being the graduate assistant for an Sociology 101 class.
She hadn’t taken the pills. The pain went away when she dropped out of school.
She had a whole bottle, 60 of them. Opiates, with acetaminophen.
That’s what would have killed her, the acetaminophen, they said, if, as she was losing consciousness, she hadn’t called her mother 8 hours away, and must have said something, because an ambulance came.
When she thinks about this, her mother receiving that phone call, she feels terrible.
Even now, two decades later. A heavy sadness comes into her, thinking about what that must have been like for her mother, to receive that phone call.
Those other phone calls.
Her father later sat in the rented back yard, head down, sad and worried because of what she’d done. “You just have to find a thing and do it. Just find a thing and do it.”
She understood the concept of this, and even believed that she could possibly pull it off, this thing of finding a thing and doing it.
However, there was something of resignation in his words, and something of the intern’s tone, of ‘get the fuck over yourself and get a job and make a life and just do it.’
She knew, even then, that there was something deeply wrong with her, that made it almost impossible to do some things. The thought of working in the Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, create a stir of images and sensations, fluorescent lights, sticker-smelling air, plastic. Quiet. Paperwork. People.
“Oh, man,” she thinks to herself, “there is no way.”
Working at the DMV, that couldn’t be the thing. There was a long list, already, of things she knew she could not do, or things she thought she could not do. Things that, based on her experiential evidence, may present significant challenges to her, so far as her ability to tolerate particular environments and to deal with tedious environments, to have to be a certain way that she finds it hard to be, smiling and constrained, modulated as fuck.
She was smart though.
She could figure it out. There were lots of things she could do, and things she liked doing, felt alright – even good – in doing. Mostly, she wanted to be an artist and talk to people in parks and be useful in some way.
She also wanted to solve problems, and liked trying to understand things.
She liked being outside, and in old buildings.
She did not like the mall. Not anymore.
It was something about the smells, the meld of pretzel and perfume, popcorn, plasticky newness, but not quite clean, the pawed over, rebreathed air of the mall.
It was so different than the smells of the woods, the smell of the kitchen at home. There weren’t old bones anywhere. So much was new.
She laughed earlier, at the oddity of her sitting and writing about the suicide attempt at the turn of the century, and then getting up to go inside, to make sandwiches for her daughter to take hiking. Making chipper small talk, completely shifting gears.
She does that all day long. Shifts gears. Inhabits different aspects of herself to suit the situation and the role she might be operating within. Some days she is better at it than others, the shifting. Sometimes, she is not comfortable shifting, or doesn’t want to shift. Occasionally, she cannot shift, and the state she was in bleeds into parts of the day where it doesn’t belong.
What she has been doing, lately, is trying doggedly to just keep writing, and to keep writing as though she is writing for the book, the damnable book, the delusional book.
She remembers that she’s not said what she set out to say yesterday, that she believes the book is delusional, the whole idea of it.
Perhaps she did say it, and perhaps it’s worth repeating. The whole idea of this book is delusional.
Aug 22 4:25PM
She drifted toward the edges of things, was at a school and then away for a few days, a semester. Her burgeoning mythopoeticism, seeded by the images of people dancing in the desert on television ads for freedom music and the shaded illustrations of a few of the books she had read as a child, that she had been shown, those worlds of shadowy forest and magic, drew her toward the pale-white gothic boy who wore his father’s shined military shoes in lieu of combat boots and daydreamed on the phone with her about kissing someone in the snow though it had only snowed once in the whole time she’d been alive. She didn’t really like him that much, but liked that he could talk about The Cure, talk about songs and hating the town they lived in. She was drawn to the handful of punks and metal heads because of her anger, and her loathing of school. The fast music, the screaming voices just like she screamed, hating places, wishing she had never been born.
For a while she desperately, still, wanted to be normal, wanted to ride in the cars of clean boys, to snark and gossip like life was easy and fun, sun-tanned and laughing like nothing was wrong, wearing pastels.
Then she stopped trying to be normal, because she could not be. She could not talk with the kids who were her friends in early middle school about the depression that made her want to die.
More and more, she only felt comfortable with the kids whose lives were messy, who had fucked up families and wore torn up clothes.
They sat with their legs hanging off of the dock, swinging into the open air above the river, where the water slapped against the dock likings, sheer amber at the surface, showing the barnacles and occasionally scuttling blue crab. The tide was going out, the sun was going down, and the whole world was filled the thrum of summertime, like a golden light itself, pulsing out from the oak trees by the cemetery, rising up from the marsh and the currents itself, rush and slap and lull. “Man, did you see those trucks on Friday?”
The boy hung his arms through the railing, moved his hand up and down, watched it. He had just started the 10th grade, and his friend was in the 11th, but she’d probably drop out soon, or change schools again. She he’d known her since the 8th grade, since his dad was transferred here from Virginia. She had already been sent away once when he met her, and she changed schools a lot. She hated school more than anyone he knew.
She spat into the water, because she did things like this. She was always acting tough, unless they were in the woods or walking on some not-yet-paved road or wandering through the frames in rooms of houses that did not yet have doors, then she acted like a little kid and was fun.
She was alright to sit by the water with, because she could just sit there for a long time. She never seemed exactly bored.
“Fucking assholes. So fucking stupid.” Her voice was flat, dismissive, but with an edge. The trucks had driven through the pasture lawn in front of the school on Friday afternoon, flying a rebel flag, another hand-made flag saying “It’s a white thing, you wouldn’t understand.”
They didn’t talk about racism, or even name it.
Just said it was stupid what those trucks had done, driving through the grass like that.
Then they got up to walk over to convenience store, where she would walk right in and buy cigarettes like she was 18 years old.
Aug 22 4:25PM
It was 9 years ago
today or yesterday,
that I got started
and it figures that last night
I hit a wall
came up on a cliff
had to really look at what I had done
and the expanse of what I aimed to do
how far I am from capable
It was okay.
I went to bed peaceful,
having given up for the day,
but with a new resolve,
a new understanding,
that this is life,
this is death.
I can get start again tomorrow.
What this asks of me is to admit,
that I was wretched, that I was foolish.
To show my foolishness to the world,
to all the other fools.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“This isn’t a confessional.”
“This is a deconstruction of foolishness.”
These are the things that are crowding my mind.
Aug 22 4:26PM
This is the nature of the impasse where I find myself. I have been aware, for quite some time, that is unlikely that I can re-tell of my efforts to tell the story in some kind of comprehensive and yet concise overview. I know that such a telling is theoretically possible, and that a more skilled writer may be able to pull it off.
How do I tell the story of a human being who was born into a family that lived in the woods on a river in a father-built geodesic dome, who rode up by the captain on the Cumberland Queen, because her father was a ranger on ‘The Island.’ Her great-grandmother was born in 1894, and lived a quarter mile away, across the road from the pear orchard. She didn’t die until the girl was sixteen. The girl spent her childhood watching age take her great-grandmother. Being in hospitals.
The girl almost died, when she fell off of a leaf swing on Christmas Day, 1982, and “broke her spleen.” She was in the hospital for months, but it wasn’t until…
…who had artists and runaways and racist judges in their bloodlines? A human being who, likely both by blood-writ tendencies toward intelligence, sensitivities and anxieties and the impact of significant medical trauma at a young age became troubled about the world and the ways that some things made them feel. The ways things don’t make sense, and are brutal.
How do you tell a story that is about trying to tell a story, without talking about the ways you tried to tell the story.
My mind is scrambling around in a lot of directions right now, a total overload of significance. I cannot unpack the manifestation of my psychosis from formative experiences and inherent attributes. Who I am. What my life has involved. Where I am from. What ideas informed my emerging personhood.
I absolutely do not want to write a self psychoanalysis. That is not what this is.
She sits on the porch alone, nine days after he arrived in Edmonton just a few hours before her alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, waking herself up early.
She had set the alarm and made the ambitious hiking plans in an effort to stay a few steps ahead of any lurking sorrowful fears that might swallow her up if she let them.
A sharp-edged doubt crept around her as she pushed up fog-soaked rocks with his old backpack settling its weight again and again in her stride.
It wasn’t until yesterday, over a full week later, that the doubt which had gnawed its way into an idea, a scenario – nagging at her, bothering her, to the extent that she literally prayed it would go away, she did not want to believe it, she knew it wasn’t true…that doubt fell to pieces as she came out of a different forest, where she’d run in a storm for reasons she doesn’t fully understand beyond the when she runs, she figures out how to not be scared.
Now, she is sitting on the porch and the day is beautiful, perfect even, with sun and clouds and warm and breeze. She is wearing a sweater, her feet are bare. “Is it crazy to think that those ravens meant something?” Earlier, he had texted her a video of glaciated mountains all around, scooped out valley land far below, a river winding through it, just the hush of the wind and some unseen movement of his body, the crinkle of a jacket, as sound.
“It’s so quiet up here.” He texted. “You know I’m at 1,000 feet above tree line?”
“Yes. You are way up there…up above it all.”
She laid in her bed, the room dim in the afternoon on southwestern side of the house. Sometimes, she remembers to try to lay so that her head is facing northwest, the direction he is in. She is laying north-south today, looking out the window at the cloudy afternoon, feeling drowsy.
She told him she was thinking about how sometimes, when they are outside together, sitting in the wind or still, walking over seeping ground, they talk about what it is like for them, what the sensations are of being there, the general state of mind, what they are thinking about.
Sometimes they chatter on and on about this thing or that thing, silly and grand ideas, people, their own small histories.
Sometimes they say nothing, and are deeply, peaceably silent with each other.
She imagined herself there with him, his hand near. The two of them tiny and with no walls together in the bigness of the Canadian Rockies. How it might feel, to be there with him. She thinks she knows, and a light happiness settles into the space right below her heart, up near the top of her stomach, that brief expanse between the curve of her ribs.
The phone chimed.
“Two ravens are flying over head, cawing!”
“One just buzzed me”
Is it crazy, she wonders on the front porch, in the breeze with the sunset caught gold in the maple, to think that maybe those ravens had something to do with friendship, with her wanting with the part of her that dreams to be there with him.
These are the things she thinks about alone, after her children have gone back to their father’s house across town.
They have seen ravens together for months. She looks up the meaning of the raven as a spirit animal. Gets pop-up ads for gift cards and weirdly loading websites. Images of sleek black birds and words like “transmutation,” “magic,” and “mirth.” She closes out the tabs. She’s read enough to remember that ravens mean magic, and that is enough for her. She is a sloppy researcher, a sloppy believer in anything.
Aug 22 4:27PM
The collapse of a person’s life can come about in large, obvious events, or the collapse can come about gradually, in a series of minor malfunctions that have the culminate effect of totally obliterating the functionality of a life.
I can peel back the teeth of days
Collage the fragments
(Calcite shards overlaid with sinew
That moves just like water
The skin of us
All the hard and soft of many living days)
On the morning of my birthday I decided that I wanted to take a wounded mother to see above the tree line and to say a prayer with me. Of course, the clouds socked us in and we couldn’t see a thing, but we prayed anyway. For all the mothers, all the children. Everyone.
On the afternoon of my birthday, I hefted the canoe off the truck and got into the river alone, figured out fast how to paddle with a j-stroke, a little rudder kick at the end of a strong paddle stroke, to keep the boat straight. I had a moment, out there in the river alone, of alarmed wondering.
Aug 22 4:28PM
I’ve been on a bit of a writing hiatus these past few months, because that’s how these things go sometimes. Occasionally, I have had the thought that I might just drift into not writing at all, but then I realize that at least I am still thinking about writing and that is moderately reassuring.
It takes me a minute to find my voice when I don’t keep clear writing practice times and a great deal of the heretofore structure of my life has simply ceased to exist for long periods of time over the past several months. My writing time has been used for other things – walks in the dark and canoeing, drawing, talking with my best friend, holding hands and feeling like maybe I don’t have to do anything with my life after all.
Ironically, a lot of what I’ve talked about these past few months has been doing something with my life, or rather what I want to be doing with my life.
Aug 22 6:28PM
She could write a poem about all the things she cannot say, the things she cannot tell about.
She is certain that there is already a poem that begins like this, probably hundreds.
Maybe all poems begin like this?
With the seed of a dusty, desiccated frog found up under a bookcase in the hall, where she had been lying with her face against the new carpet, smelling that new carpet smell, and looking at the fibers, how there was red and green in what looked like plain blue.
She thought it was just a pile of dust, old hair and she reached to pull it out from under the bookcase, because it was something to do. She saw an object, she picked it up. As soon as her fingers touched the silty soft mass, she could feel that there was something inside.
There in the hall, with the delicacy of a surgeon, she pulled the fur and web and fibers away from a tiny, brittle frog shape, almost made of paper, its skin brown and grey, sucked tight against the structure of its back, its tiny feet, triangle head with sunken eyes.
She does not know why she put it in water. She may have wanted to keep it, because it was, she thought, so well preserved. As she sat on the back steps with a teacup full of well water, poking the almost weightless frog body down into it when it floated up to hang just below the surface.
She did this for a long time, because once the frogs skin got wet, it started to change color, to brighten, and she became curious.
In the water, the frog transformed from withered husk to small green tree frog, like the kind they would find in the pools of water at the base of the bromeliad. It was alive. Very alive. Almost as if nothing had happened to it at all.
She understands, logically, that this could only have occurred because the frog was dehydrated and entered into a state of metabolic dormancy, as many amphibians will do if faced with adverse conditions, and that when she patiently rehydrated it, the frog resumed its usual bodily operations.
She didn’t understand then, not exactly. She knew there must be an explanation for how a dried up seemingly very dead frog could come back to life so vibrantly. She just didn’t know what they were, those explanations.
It seemed like magic to her.
She put the frog in the bromeliad and was happy that it was alive.
She felt like she had saved it, and that that mattered.
Aug 22, 2:53PM
“The book was born of delusion, and so it is a bad idea.” When she is feeling especially sane and unmagical, she thinks things like this.She knows that a great many things, both terrible ideas and wonderful ideas, were born of delusion – the belief in something that is not observably or verifiably true.
However, she also knows that the idea tha
t she could write a book that could radically shift the way we commonly think about how experience is formed by telling the story about how she lost her mind trying to prove something like God with pictures of clouds…it’s a crazy idea. A grandiose idea. A self-important idea. Like she has anything to say.
August 22, 2018 9:32PM
Continue to work at_______with reduced difficulty, develop writing, make submissions, finish beautiful book, explore creative alternative income opportunities, transition smoothly.
Continuing to work at _________is harmful to me. I understand that we are only harmed by what we allow to harm us. However, in order to reduce harm (emotional and psychological stress), I have had to basically deaden my heart for large portions of the day, which is a harm in itself.
I have performed mental and emotional acrobatics for the past year, trying to continue working for _______ without incurring harm. I have progressively cared less and less about what happens there. Now, I no longer care.
Use accrued PTO payout and final wages, as well as funds generated through the sale of unplayed musical instruments, antique typewriters, and things like records and shoes in good condition, to take a couple of months off of work to sell unplayed musical instruments, improve the house, work on developing aforementioned alternative income streams, and figure out a sustainable direction for the next several years. Communicate with people as needed re: plans. Remind people that you have been living with yourself for a long time, and you know all your tendencies toward bullshit haphazard escape plans.
That is not what this is. This is not Faith freaking out. This is Faith trying to avoid freaking out.
Remind people, also, that you are a mental health professional and know what you need to do to be optimally well in mind, body, spirit, and relationships.
Reassure people that you are not shirking important relationships with your children, but are trying to ensure that you will be a happier and more effective parent if you take care of yourself.
Because I am a person who is outside the statistically normative range across multiple measures of cognitive function, sensory integration, and incidences of atypical and/or adverse life experience (such as significant medical trauma, lengthy illnesses, other severe physical injuries, including medical shock, various interpersonal harms, witnessing people hurt, being hurt by people, causing harm myself, knowing a lot of people who have died…none of this is to say that “oh, my life is so hard, poor me, I’m special.” My life is great and I know lots of people have been through hell and back like I can’t even imagine and are still able to be okay and to have a normal life.
However, I have challenges, and I have tried to correct for those challenges to the best of my ability.
It is necessary that I accommodate these challenges within my life and this impacts how I participate in my life, what I do and don’t do, so that I can be effective in doing the things that are important to me, in which the youth are a priority.
It’s important for me to stay well.
I need to make changes in my life and get a few things out of my system.
August 23, 2018 10:37PM
On the very first day, she walked boldly in alone, and only felt a little scared. She was excited, for a while. She liked the new, the different.
Then, she didn’t.
When she was in 3rd grade, she thought Boy George was beautiful and fascinating, like some kind of fantasy creature, not at all like the men in her town, who had short hair and stupid mustaches that looked strange on their faces, who would never wear teal or pink. Boy George looked like a bird to her, and that was why he was beautiful.
Sometimes, when she talks about how she might have been a little autistic or something, she cites the time she had to have all the combs, the entire set of fluorescent Afro combs in the clear plastic tub at the Mom and Pop #3 Exxon Station on Osborne Road. She could not pick one color over the others, could not choose even two.
She wore them all fanned out in her back pocket, with her twister beads thick around her collarbones. She thinks now that this had less to do with a spectrum disorder than it had to do with being a kid who wanted things, who liked to get things, at least for a time.
She did not learn to delay gratification, and she learned – also- that being sick afforded one outs and special privileges.
The morning was grey and they had to drive all the way to Jacksonville, to get to Dr. Buckingham’s office, which contained a human brain in a jar and a number of yellowing diagrams of the human skeletal system. There was a bookshelf, wooden and with books, right beside the treatment and exam table. Dr. Buckingham was the doctor who fixed her broken elbow, put pins into it, stitched up a four inch scar that looked like a thick-legged centipede across the pale skin on the inside of her arm.
First, however, they had to drive in the opposite direction, all the way downtown, to Bennett’s Rx, to select a special stuffed animal from the glass shelves across the aisle from the Peppermint Bon Bons and the boxes candies. One aisle over from the hemorrhoid pillows and cardboard cartons of cotton balls. The pharmacy itself was elevated across the back of the store, with a mint green back wall that cast the white shelves filled with bottles and jars in a distinctly medicinal glow.
I got to go to Bennett’s and pick out a stuffed animal every time I had to go see the orthopedic surgeon.
It is worth mentioning that she remembers, or believes she remembers, looking down to watch the doctor cut open her arm, and pull the pins out of her numb bones with a pair of the shiniest pliers she’d ever seen, and that she thinks that it’s possible that the doctor only used local anesthetic, or perhaps not enough anesthetic to perform this procedure without an 8 year old girl being conscious, watching with aghast curiosity the blood streaked metal pin come out of her bone.
Sixth grade was a trailer in field full of mud-slicked grass out behind the parking lot of the county middle school, where kids from Kingsland and clear out to Woodbine, even Harriet’s Bluff, would continue to go, while the kids from St. Mary’s would go to a new school, which for the time being was a cluster of trailers in a field.
She wrote her very first ever short story about a little kid who lived in a trailer park, because by the time she was in middle school, she had friends who lived in trailers, friends who lived in cheap apartments. Friends with step-parents and mothers and fathers who fought.
August 25, 2019, 7:27AM
She wakes up early, after just six hours of sleep. This is part of her effort to be tenacious.
She knew they were afraid she would die.
She knew about the box of letters, old photos tucked into yellowing envelopes.
There was a connection, she understood, between what happened to her and how she felt. She knew that she was angry about specific things, that she had gotten hurt.
The yellow-gold painted metal, rust coming through at where the body of the machinery was creased into angles, scraped or dented. Earth crusted into corners. Everything about the machine was big. Even sitting silent in the late afternoon, it seemed to make a low growl, just in the look of it, the arm drawn up, the body a hulking mass set down into the torn up ground, pine trees spaced around the edges, mute witnesses.
She had to climb up onto the heavy steel treads to get into the cab, seat hard and plastic, the knobs of the shifts and levers perfect, shiny spheres. Through the flat glass window, the spire of the upper arm rose up, and she could see the hand of the thing, the toothed thumb. Her father’s voice saying, “There’s a lot you can do if you have a thumb on one of those things. You can pick up whole trees. Without the thumb, you can only dig and scrape.”
The keys were in the ignition, simple keys. Two of them on a single silver key ring, one hanging, one in the ignition. The touched them, and when they moved, she felt like she’d done something wrong.
The machine smelled like oil and sweat, hot plastic. There was a Mountain Dew bottle on the small space of floor beside the gear console. It looked like it had dip spit in it.
It was hard for her to tell, already, what had been there, at that spot where she was sitting in a backhoe in the late afternoon, her bike laid in the dirt across the tracks of the machine, trucks, footprints broken by the tangles of roots that sprayed up from the ground, upended into the air, drying out.
She knew where her road was, the dirt road that led to home, but she could not figure out, already, where the smaller road out to the blackberry thicket had been. That might be where she was, or near it. The canes and brambles, toothed leaves and the spines on the fruit itself, tiny hairs, the fur of a bee, the spine of a wasp. Everything clawing and sweet stained purple in the sun as she tromped along the edges of the thicket in the sun of her childhood, her mother and brother there, too.
She thought she might be near there, where all those blackberries used to be.
The key felt sharp between her fingers when sh
e pulled it from the ignition, loud scrape in bubble of silence, her sitting there. She closed her fist around the keys, and without thinking, a quick animal movement, jumped out of the machine and walked in a straight line to her bike, stalked, she lifted the bike, steered it with her hand tight on one side of the handlebars, her right fist pressed against the other. As she moved toward the perimeter of the scraped-clean area where a tennis court would be built, she shot her fist out into the air and opened it hard, spitting the keys out into the smilax and muscadine, scraggly pine that hadn’t yet been cleared.
08/256/2018 [Draft, unsent]
It would be easy to write a sensational collection of graphic, gritty crises.
That wouldn’t be the whole story. Even as I was emerging into adolescence as a ‘girl with problems,’ I still had friends, and I still had hopes, things I almost desperately wanted to do in the world, places I wanted to go, glimmers of feelings I wanted to feel.
I wanted to go places. I wanted, also, to be a scientist, and a writer, and an artist, and someone who helps people or the planet.
I was a young idealist.
She has a remarkable memory for things that she doesn’t want to remember.
The EMS worker wheeling her past the washer and dryer by the backdoor, the flat black non-taste of medical charcoal. The smugness of the intern on the psychiatric unit, just a couple miles from the stadium and the campus, where the early Spring was filled with pink dogwoods and damp golden light. The intern wore shined black shoes with an old-fashioned, late-90s buckle across the top of his foot. It was the new millennium now, and he told her to quote taking money from her parents and get a job, smug, as if it were so simple as that, as if she were an idiot for not having figured this out.
Her hair was oily and lank around her face, lips pale and dry from the side effects of the medication, the inside air of the hospital caked into her mouth. She hated to speak, to be watched and listened to in places like that. She kept her arms around herself, aware of the fact that she was basically wearing pajamas, socks with rubberized tread.
Talking with the psychiatric intern, her vision was still blurry, two days after the toxic blast of what she’d taken. Her pupils still tight constricted by the opiates prescribed by a gynecologist for the persistent pain she’d felt in her abdomen that Fall, sitting in the hard chair of the lecture hall, being the graduate assistant for an Sociology 101 class.
She hadn’t taken the pills. The pain went away when she dropped out of school.
She had a whole bottle, 60 of them. Opiates, with acetaminophen.
That’s what would have killed her, the acetaminophen, they said, if, as she was losing consciousness, she hadn’t called her mother 8 hours away, and must have said something, because an ambulance came.
When she thinks about this, her mother receiving that phone call, she feels terrible.
Even now, two decades later. A heavy sadness comes into her, thinking about what that must have been like for her mother, to receive that phone call.
Those other phone calls.
Her father later sat in the rented back yard, head down, sad and worried because of what she’d done. “You just have to find a thing and do it. Just find a thing and do it.”
She understood the concept of this, and even believed that she could possibly pull it off, this thing of finding a thing and doing it.
However, there was something of resignation in his words, and something of the intern’s tone, of ‘get the fuck over yourself and get a job and make a life and just do it.’
08/27/2018 [Draft, unsent]
I drove out west from Alabama with a kid who would end up on heroin in Oakland. In Los Angeles, we walked to a shitty Burger King, and looked at people on the street, real live prostitutes.
All the prostitutes at home just look like poor women, which is what they are. They do not wear short skirts or bustiers. The women at home stand awkwardly on corners or at the edge of parking lots,
I dropped him off in Berkeley, just a random, busy place. “I’ll find somewhere to stay,” he said. Shrugged.
She comes back to the same themes, the same questions, the same efforts to explain.
The morning is loud today, with the insects singing their dying songs and the first-day-of-school traffic going by a little too fast, more cars than usual, people from all over the city pouring towards the middle school up the street.
Monday morning, and here she is, on the porch. Her children got to school early, because everybody was up and ready to go. She is grateful everyday that her children are not like she was when she was a teenager.
When she sat down to write, after days of scarce time, the first words that came out of her was, “I don’t want to write about any of this.”
She has been trying to create small episodic pieces of writing to fit together into a whole, some broadly cohesive and well-seamed work depicting her experience as a ‘person with a mental illness.’
“Haha,” she laughs a little in her head, a smirking feeling in her as she sits in the worn-edged white rocker on the porch. “It’s not about that, but it is.”
When she drives, she thinks – with an effort to be objective – about whether or not she is strange, observes her grubby car, the coil of her too-long braid resting at her hip, the tattoos on her hands and the thoughts in her head. She thinks about people she knows and people she doesn’t know, people she sees and how they sometimes look at her, and do not look at her. How in some places she is not noticed, and other places she is.
When she is noticed she tells herself that it is because she is tall and maybe interesting looking, because she wears clothing that makes her feel most like herself, clothing she feels comfortable in. All solid colors, layers of tight and loose, pants like a pirate.
She’s always had a personal style. This is something her mother has said to her. The country people at work say she is unique, drawing out the u like chewing gum, snapping the hard final sound. They all say unique the same way, the country people. It’s a word that is hard to say in any other other way, the syllables like a one-two punch, the softness of the vowel, the bite of the word’s ending.
She knows that a lot of other people do not think about words in this way, they don’t feel the feel of them or get them stuck in their heads, repeating over and over with a host of vague associations and the mental image of a short little woman with a child face and a 4th grade education, smiling and declaring, “You are uuuuuneek, ain’tcha?”
They don’t involuntarily remember everything they know about this woman and her life story, the names of her pets, the incidences of her childhood, the way she looks when she is dancing, being silly in the classroom at work. They do not have to fend off the gaggle of secondary and tertiary associations that clamor into her mind, images and partial thoughts.
They do not have to take a deep breath and pull themselves, their train of thought and attention, back to what it was that they were supposed to be thinking about, what they were supposed to be doing.
She knows she seems distant sometimes, and that sometimes her face is troubled. Sometimes she has to take deep breaths.
She forgets what she is doing.
As she is sitting with herself on Monday morning, trying to bring herself back into writing, into remembering the project she is working on, after scrambling to get through a week of working and driving, a suicide, a half-time show, a cross country meet, a funeral, a birthday, a first day of high school, she feels a small rush of accomplishment and appreciation for the fact that she has not completely fallen apart, and has been able to move through the gauntlet of these past several days, weeks, months, years.
Her life has felt a little like a gauntlet for a long time. Not always tremendously hard in big, noticeable ways, and downright benevolent in the small stretches between obstacles and incidences, but nonetheless the days feel, and have felt for a long time, like a near-constant challenge of determination and navigation.
She still thinks that she ought to be able to do everything that everybody else does.
She catches herself quietly believing that there is something wrong with her that it is a stress-producing event to go to a football game, to go to work, to buy new shoes at the shopping center.
These are things that other people do, all the time, and it is no big deal. It is just their life, and they do it and are happy to do it.
She reminds herself that she doesn’t know what other people are happy to do, that she knows nothing of other people’s actual internal experience of their own lives.
All day long, she daydreams about running away. As she rides in the backseat of the car, she watches the woods slide by along the highway. She catches glimpses of hot breaks of sun and shade, sometimes fences, No Trespassing signs. Sometimes roads behind a thin stand of thin trees. Passing thick forests – not cut or burnt, turned into fields, torn down and replanted – she tried to keep her eyes moving with the car, but holding to the forest, peering into it in split second stillness, seeing into the woods.
The feeling in her chest, peering into the woods, was one of wanting to go into the trees, to walk away from the noise of the car on the road, the talk of other people, the place they were going, wherever it was, the sense of known destination.
It was a feeling like she had walking out into a hot beach, and running, running to the water, how she knew the feeling of cool on her feet, her body hurtling towards the water, running without thinking toward something your body wants, some seeking relief or comfort or fun.
When she looked at the woods, she wanted to go into them. To walk away, to disappear.
She mostly understood a deep, disgusted scowling, a loathing of all the cars, the endless bulldozering and paving of places she had looked at her entire life and had never known to change. Many places were suddenly gone. Where there was woods one day, there may be a carnage of split pines and torn palmettos by the afternoon of the next.
She knew she was scared of war.
The old trunk was in the loft in the dome room where her parents slept. Cracked leatherand a half-broken latch, full of old papers. She could read, but she didn’t read the pamphlet she found. The one with what she would later learn was a nuclear reactor, two of them actually, standing in what was rendered in black and white on yellowing paper to be a wasteland of some sort, with great billowing tentacles of thick menace oozing from the tops of the buildings like buildings she had never seen before. In thebackground there was something like a cloud, but the most fearsome cloud she’d ever seen. She didn’t read the pamphlet. Only the word NUCLEAR. She just stared at the picture.
She knew that people laid down on the railroad tracks, though she’d never seen this. She knew about it, because she’d heard her parents talking about it, how nobody was hurt, that they’d been trying to stop the trains from going out to base, because they were carrying something to do with the nuclear submarines or with Lockheed Martin or the Trident Training Facility.
Nuclear war was her biggest fear.
Bigger even than the death of her family, or even her own death.
It was a fear too big to think about, a choking fear.
She only looked at the picture. She could not read the words. She was scared of them like she was scared of the pictures on the boxes at the movie rental store.
It was hard not to think about the possibility of war. Her hometown had become a military town.
The task of determining why a person ‘turns out’ the way they turn out is complicated, but it makes total sense to her that she would be the person that she is, and have the values that she does, after growing up in the woods with a park ranger father and a plexiglass geodesic dome for a living room, and watching the United States Navy transform everything she knew into something different. Not only different, but actively representative of her biggest child-fear, and full of new things to be afraid of, bulldozers and muscled men, conversations with people.
Because her parents were a little-bit hippie, enough so that they had a VW van, once moved to a commune, and built a house on stilts with a dome by themselves, she knew about peace symbols, that they existed on record albums and on the ads for Freedom Songs, spinning on the screen with a disco light pulsing behind them.
Her parents were normal by the time she started middle school. Her dad no longer worked for the park service. He sold the land. Her mother listened to Huey Lewis and the News, Steve Wynwood. They got a Suburban, big and black and grey, a hulking beast of a vehicle.
It was time to design the sign for the subdivision. Her father was talking to her mother in the kitchen. “Let me draw it,” she said, because she liked to draw and was good at it. “We want it to look real nice,” her dad said, “but, go ahead. That’s a great idea.”
She didn’t sit in her usual seat, but in her brothers, so her back was to the stove, and she wasn’t facing her parents by the sink. She drew out the letters like boards, like old boards, with old board lines and ragged edges, segmented together with nails, several bent, just like something from the Berenstain Bears. She thought it looked cozy, humble. Pleasingly rustic. It reminded her of home, of the house she was sitting in, the way there were some nails not flush, little edges of metal, uneven boards, spaces between.
She has pictures of the day they hung the sign, taken from an old envelope of photos in a storage bin at her parents home. When she was 20, she went through the bin, and tried to find photos that might represent her childhood, because she was on the brink of emerging into an uncertain adulthood, and was still gripped by powerful waves of what she felt as nostalgia and homesickness.
She still loved her childhood, ferociously she loved it.
It would be years before she realized that there is something cruel in teaching a person to love something deeply, to love it like it is a part of them, and then to destroy, or to allow to be destroyed, what is loved.
It would be even more years before she realized that we all do the best we can to protect what is loved, and that sometimes there are forces beyond our control that make situations impossible.
“Well, the annexation doesn’t start until next year, so we have time to plan.”
Her father slapped the envelope against the counter, not angry, but almost resigned and shaking his head slow like his mind was blown. “They’re gonna go through the roof,” picks up the envelope, “through the roof!” slaps it down again as a sort of punctuation.
“What are you talking about?” She is at the table, awkward-stage slouching over a bowl of cereal. It is afternoon, and the river is gleaming like a ribbon of swift blue under the sky. The kitchen was warm and smelled of wood and salt breeze, of moss.
She is still learning that it is always worth it to love something deeply, to know it well and to love it and to be grateful for it, even if it becomes lost, or dies, or is destroyed by things that you have no control over. Even if it ends up breaking her heart, she knows it always better to love.
This is about her mental illness. It is about her experience of being the person that she is, the effort to understand why she sees things the way she does, why she feels what she feels and believes what she believes.
Because she is a person who was diagnosed as having a mental illness when she was young, she grew up reflecting in the concepts of normal and disordered.
Happy and imbalanced. Depressed and inappropriate.
She was not okay. She almost died.
Did she have a mental illness?
Does she still, in fact, have a mental illness?
What does mental even mean?
She left work early again. Last week it was the yellowjacket stings. This week it was the internal shaking and strange dropping feeling she got in between surges of what felt like a desperate, keening heartbreak. The feelings of loss that blanked her mind and made words sound hollow, people seeming plasticene, her own no
Psychologically, she knows how to deal with suicide. She knows how to expect that shewill feel feelings, and to mitigate those feelings by reassuring herself of her belief that the best of us never ever dies, and just goes on to be a part of everything as she understands it. She knows how to think of the person laughing, and to expect that a flash of their face in pain, the heaviness of their eyes, the turn of their mouth, will push its way in, and she knows to feel compassion and to hope the person found some mercy, but to still hold sadness that the person did not get to experience the feeling of consistently loving life.
She is so fucking happy to be alive. Even on difficult days, during long seasons, she is still so happy to be alive.
(Her curiosity helped keep her alive, helped her to learn to love being alive just to see what might happen next, for the challenge to find beauty, the feeling that must surely be grace when she does find it, when she can find something that makes her deeply happy to be alive just to see it, a small bird on a wire.)
She knows that these are the things she needs to orient herself to when someone she knows commits suicide, or completes a suicide attempt, or kills themselves. She knows a lot of people who kill themselves. Some in slow ways, some in fast ways.
“You seem to be really good at dealing with this,” her son remarks in the kitchen, as she stoically sweeps the floor, preparing to go to the memorial, her heart a numb tangle inher chest.
“Well, it’s one of the hazards of the job,” she shrugged, “you get really good at shutting down your feelings, because you have to.”
She knew she was sad about her friend’s death, sad that another friend had to track her down via email to tell her, because she doesn’t keep in touch with anyone lately, she just sits on the porch and writes, goes to work at the Recovery Education Center, where she’s worked part-time since three months after her hospitalization back in the worst winter of her entire life, almost 8 years ago.
She is approaching the anniversary of that last involuntary commitment. Some years she hasn’t even thought about it. The first year she didn’t remember it, she almost cried with gratitude that she could forget, despite the fact that she had – in fact – remembered, but only briefly and at the very end of the day.
She was texting her co-worker, her office mate, about his break up and about the weird places they were from. Her coworker was one of the only people she’d ever met, here in the mountains, that had been to her hometown in South Georgia, who had actually lived in Yulee, Florida, right over the Highway 17 bridge, first town after the border. Her coworker was her friend. They both had social anxieties and worked as ‘mental health’ Peers. He had not ever lost his mind like she had, but he could understand her eccentricities because they are both artists.
“Oh my god…I just totally realized that it’s the anniversary of the worst day of my life and I didn’t even realize it until just now. Do you think that means I’m healed or something? Haha…”
She felt light-hearted, happy that she could think about that day and feel nothing. She quick-texted back.
“I mean, seriously, this is amazing.”
He responded: “that’s good. Must be all that dopamine from the almonds.”
She felt a little bummed that he didn’t get it, that he attributed her elation and over-sharing to possibly increased dopamine from the almonds she’d been eating huge handfuls of in an effort to increase her dopamine levels naturally.
She got sick of the almonds and was possibly slightly more motivated, but there are too many factors to consider in experiences of motivation to attribute causation to her gaining three pounds from over-eating almonds.
This year, she is thin, almost too-thin. It’s from the running up hills, the increased smoking. She smokes and runs up hills. She does not feel hungry because it is hot and she has been feeling emotional. This year, she is thinking a lot about the anniversary of that last time she went to the hospital, that whole series of events in sharp-detail still.
She understands why she is thinking about it more. Why the time of year might feel the same as it did that summer, that the insects in the yard might be droning the same humming buzz and chirp, that her feelings of uncertainty, of transition, of loss have been stirred up this year in ways that perhaps they weren’t that one year she forgot what day it was.
She doesn’t want to remember the day. She just does. Remembering just comes into her mind, makes her feel things, makes the feeling of the time kind of echo in her, swell andthen recede.
She can sit with it now. More than she could before. Before, remembering would get her in its grip, and flood her with feeling. She would go quiet, scowl at the sink, mouth turned down like she might cry, body heavy and trembling inside.
There were a couple of years that she had minor tough moments around mid-September. Mostly, she is happy to not be in the hospital, and this is what she remembers when she notices that it’s that time of year again.
She wonders if she will remember that her friend died two days after her daughter’s 14th birthday, that the memorial was the day before her son’s birthday. She is okay with remembering that. She learned a lesson from her friend, that helped her be a better mother to her own daughter.
She is happy to remember her friend, despite the underbelly of sadness because her friend killed herself, and called for help, but did not live. She reminds herself that the other side of sadness is love, and that we are only sad about things that matter to us, to think about the love, to hold that with the loss.
Psychologically, she knows how to accept and find peace with someone’s death. Emotionally, she still feels sad.
She has learned to think about her emotions as sensations. This is what she talks about in the trauma recovery class, how what we feel as feelings is our nervous system reacting to our perceived lives with either distress or eustress, feeling that feel good and hold positive associations and feelings that tear us apart in the chest and can be hitched to almost every bad thing that has ever happened to a person.
She knows there is nothing wrong with being sad. That being sad is okay. It troubles her sometimes, though. The way she feels when she feels sad, what it reminds her of, what it does to her. Makes it hard to breathe. Floods her eyes. Turns her body heavy or light, like she might pass out, sends heat and flex and stab and tear all through her chest, up into her neck where she swears it feels like a ghost hand, closing up her throat.
She knows how to not feel sad, but that means not feeling much. Being neutral inside, only a little edgy, because she can still feel the sadness pushing at her muscles, and she takes a deep breath and reminds herself that she is okay, she is doing it. She is making a school lunch. She is going to work. She feels alright. There are things she is excited about. Her hair looks like shit, but whatever.
She can numb out, at least for a while. Then some combination of factors might combine to create an irreconcilable cumulative stress load that exceeds her capacity to regulate, to cope.
Then she cannot help to cry. Then it becomes hard to even speak, because if she moves at all, or tries to make a sound, all the feeling in her might fly out and break her wide open. She knows, rationally, that she is okay, that she can move. That she can change her posture, speak. Shake it off. Go outside. That her feelings cannot hurt her.
Except they do hurt. They hurt like knives and weights. They hurt like burns and scissors.
These comparisons are not helpful to her. She knows this. They are only sensations. They are not knives, they are not scissors. They are how her body has felt when it is scared or tired or overwhelmed or confused or sad or all of the above, in fear. Struggling.
She knows that the feeling of heartbreak is to be expected when someone commits suicide, but she cannot let herself feel heartbreak and simultaneously work in the community mental health and substance abuse recovery industry.
She left work early today, because she was falling apart inside in a way that she was having a difficult time managing. It was an easy explanation, and justifiable bail-out.
She cannot help but to be a little testy when she explained to her supervisor, a kind younger woman with big eyes and a gentle face, that a friend had committed suicide and that it had really brought up a lot, and that she hadn’t even really had time to sit with the grief and implications of the loss.
A rush of words, “It’s really been since last Thursday, because I found out Wednesday night and then I came here on Thursday and Friday and then there was a football game and a cross country meet and the memorial and then my son’s 16th birthday and then we hiked to Mt. Mitchell and it was my daughter’s first day of high school and I just haven’t even been able to cry or anything. I’ve had to just keep going.”
In the back of her mind there is a voice that says that that is what people do. They keep going. That is what life is.
A counter squall of “What if a person can’t keep going? What if they can’t do it?”
Some asshole sneers, “Well, then they’re a fucking ——-.”
Fuck that guy. She is constantly countering all the different ways of looking at a situation, of looking at herself.
She doesn’t ‘hear’ the voices, like an external voice, like some voice-hearers. She has heard voices, and static, and music, faint singing, but only in extremely dysregulated states, and in a way that was neutral if not slightly worrisome but at least interesting, as a phenomenon, because she knew enough to know that what she was hearing was not real, that it was coming from inside her head, but just sounded like it was coming from outside her head. She did, imagine, that there was a crowd at the middle school, a rally, a military rally. She wondered, also, whether her mother had just come into the backdoor and was calling to her from the kitchen as she walked up the stairs, alone in her house. She tried to commit to memory the lilting notes of the song, because it sounded like it might be sung by angels.
She has never been able to remember the song.
She had insight. However, her initial perceptions of the experiences were fraught with strange conclusions, that she then had to work out. To really look at the plausibility of a military rally at the school, with guns and propagandizing, booming voices, angry cheers. Maybe it was a football game?
Reality testing came naturally to her, because she had had to consider how her behavior might be seen by others for a very long time, just like everybody else has had consider alternative perspectives
August 29, 11:59AM
he left work early yesterday, and came home to write. Something is happening with the mountain of accumulated false starts, experiments, and pure slush she has been trying to sort out in her mind as some kind of telling of a story.
She does not know how much writing she has done. She only knows she has been writing for nine years, and that nine years is a long time. She wrote before, a lot. Letters and short stories. The beginnings of journals that she abandoned in a few days.
There were times she didn’t write, long depressions and loathing of the sluggish muteness in her, years when her mind would not slow down for all the things she had to do, when she sat down to write about being a mother, too much flooded into her and the baby began to cry.
She has tried to stop writing before, to see if she felt peace of mind, if she could just be present in her life and cease with the internal narrative. There are times that it quiets, naturally, that aren’t depressions. Times when she forgets almost about writing, when she is just happy to be where she is at. Sometimes, later, usually when she is feeling grateful to have had some small experience or another, she will try to write about those experiences where she forgets everything about herself and is simply where she is, doing what she is doing.
It was inevitable that she would be upset, riding in the car to the bus station in Jacksonville, to board a Greyhound headed north to New York City, where she would go to the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library primarily to stand in those spaces, look at those objects, step into rooms of quiet and stillness from the rush and hustle and infinite layers of sound that was the city outside. She will not ever forget the moment she stepped out of the bus, passed through the Port Authority tunnels and crowds and stairs that smelled like piss and dirt, already invisible, as soon as she stepped off the bus, infinitesimal as she found herself on the sidewalk, people flowing around her, the city seeming to explode with movement and structures and sound and light. She had tried to start keeping a journal, had taken a Polaroid of herself reflected in the bus window. She looked bewildered and young, like another Polaroid of her at a skating rink birthday party, age 8. Slumped against a wall, hands clasped and fingers twisted together, head lilting, eyes with a seven mile stare, face neutral. She was tired. Birthday parties made her feel weird, gave her the clown feeling.
That is what they called it, the feeling that she got, that made her not want to get out of the car. It was a feeling in her stomach, a feeling in her arms. “It feels like a clown,” she told her mom, naming the association she had, which was not a specific clown, more the idea of clowns. She wasn’t scared of them, but she didn’t like them. They were loud, and touchy. Garish with their plain human teeth stained yellow right there, little beard hairs pushing through the make up, knots in the wigs. They looked plastic. Gross to her.
She didn’t know it then, when she was a kid, but she thinks, now, that maybe it had something to do with not liking a thing, and feeling this enormous pressure to smile, to like it, to not run away or push the grinning lurching person away from her, because that’s not what you’re supposed to do.
She might call it childhood social anxiety now, but when she was a kid, she called it the clown feeling. It usually went away.
By the time she was upset while her father drove her to the bus station, her ability to regulate emotion was glitchy as hell. She was 22 years old, and was going to graduate school in the Fall. She didn’t know why she was upset. She didn’t yet know that within the next year she would take all of the pills in the house and almost die.
She was going to graduate school in the Fall, just taking a summer trip, alone to Nova Scotia, by way of the East Coast, riding buses, taking ferries. She had a backpack for her things and planned to walk the cities that she had bus layovers in, because she liked the impressions of changing neighborhoods and the feel of places, the look of them, what she could read about a place in its aesthetic, its peeling paint or polished surfaces. She looked to look at things, at places, at the layers of them.
Sometimes though, she felt numb, disconnected, watching the weigh station pass by on I-95, her father driving her to the bus station. Then, great sobbing cries, almost child crying, would pour out of her, snot and tears everywhere. She felt angry. Sad. Hugely angry and woefully sad.
She didn’t know why. She had felt like that for a long time, in between feeling alright, feeling pretty good, doing okay. Whenever anything sad or troubling happened though, even if it was just something she thought was happening, some significance or spin she put on a situation, nothing even real, her body was flooded with feeling that freaked her out, made it hard not to cry, hard not to slam doors.
She was strong. Tall like her father, naturally strong. Physical. In ninth grade at the boarding school in North Georgia where she went for just one year, she and two other girls were comparing bodies. “You’re like a model,” the thin girl was told, though she was too short to be a model. “You,” her body was surveyed by the girl who had a ‘classic figure,’ “you have kind of an athletes body. You look like an athlete.”
When she was angry and sad, all the strength in her seemed to surge and recede, bursts of violent energy, strong desire to lash out, to hit, to kick, to run, all bounding through her limbs at once, followed by utter weakness, like her legs are made of wood and her muscles are like string.
It was exhausting. To feel so much, to be so moved, to be so outraged, to be so frustrated, so sad, so utterly thrilled to be alive and so dreadfully grieving to want to die, all the time, churning in her, making her strange, hurting and confusing people she loved, sending her home from the party.
She still managed to have friends, to find people she could be around. It was easier when she got older, and could find places like the trailer out behind the Chinese restaurant on Atlantic Blvd, the band set up in the living room, the 24 year old drummer that she hung out with the summer and Fall she turned 16. Dyed her hair purple, smoked cigarettes at the kitchen table by a half-empty can of Milwaukee’s Best, watched the band practice and felt alright.
She could always find some weird guy to hang out with, some other girl who had given herself tattoos and liked driving around smoking and taking photographs listening to the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. her friendships didn’t last too long. She sort of drifted away from people, started to feel weird around them. Didn’t know what to say.
She liked being alone, setting off alone.
August 29, 2018 2:00PM
The history of this
Is a history of small marriages
The first being laughter
After the prelude of meeting
In a dumb office with broken chairs
Wearing a jacket the color of dried blood
We talked about nicotine addiction
And Edward o Wilson at the gas station
Evolutionary biology and books
“What book are you reading?”
I named the one that I was not reading, but had brought to the bedside table with the intent to read.
The Insect Societies
And on that day, that very first day,
You heard my most embarrassing story
Of the cute wrestler and his parents house
The clogged up toilet
The dash to the garbage
Laughter bonds people in some way.
August 31, 2018 8:10AM
She will only use Google searches to conduct her research, and will cite appropriately using MLA format.
Mental health and creativity
August 31st, 8:31PM
It’s always so clear to her in the morning, what she needs to do.
She doesn’t notice the clouds like she used to. She sees them, and can sometimes catch some angles or densities that she knows, if she sat quiet and watched for long enough, she might be able to see something in, some shape or figure, a straight line or a curve. Something that looks like something else, a cloud that looks like a letter, that looks like a sharp-eyed animal, a massive wave, an arm outstretched. The number 8 on its side written in water and light, the undulations of winds, cross streams of air.
She knows that if she sat still long enough, and watched closely enough, and thought about how the sky might look to someone if they’d never watched television, if they didn’t have written words, if they didn’t have books. If all they had was the belief that what happened in the sky was important, because it could bring rain, storms, snow and ice. The sky could, and still can, destroy everything a person knows of life, crops and shelters, paths and families.
She wondered what people felt, a long time ago, when they looked at the sky? She wondered what they noticed, looking so closely at the clouds, the shape of the wind writ against the water and dust of the earth, gleaming and glowering from above.
It was easy to understand why people thought God lived in the sky, in the water, in everything.
The basic patterns are the same. Elements endlessly reconfigured, each form and component of a form, down to the atoms in our cells, all held together by tiny bonds of lightning and charge.
Of course, she learned this from watching television, nature programs, and reading books about patterns in nature. She also learned it by observing the branching pattern on the pale inside of her own wrist and seeing, like everyone sees at some point or another, a river, a willow tree.
She knew that if she sat still long enough, and studied the ways the clouds formed and stretched, blooming and receding, endlessly in motion, never entirely still, that she would be able to see something in them, and that she would remember, not just as a concept, but as a feeling, a deep understanding that the world is very old, and that it is alive in ways that she knows she cannot even conceive of.
She likes to imagine that people made up stories about what they saw in the clouds, and she wonders what some of the figures she saw would mean to someone who believed that the shapes of clouds meant something.
She does not know if she believes that or not. She did believe that. She used to believe that. Sometimes she believes that, a little, because – to her – it is a wonderful thing to believe.
Believing that the shapes in clouds meant something played a big role in her losing her mind in the way that she did.
The clouds don’t look different to her now, but she looks at the differently. She still notices them, spends a few long moments looking up while in parking lots or driving. She cannot see the sky from her porch anymore, not like she could the year she took all those pictures, sometimes hundreds a day, trying to document what she believed was Proof of God.
The trees in the yard have gotten too big. She can only see the sky in patches through the leaves. No details, just general suggestion of blue or grey, sunrise and a bright spot of moon.
It took her a long time to understand that she had probably not proved anything at all, but her own stubborn naïveté about what constitutes proof as well as the power of a person such as herself to change the history of the future of the world.
They called it Delusions of Grandeur, after she tried to explain, there in the emergency room on involuntary commitment orders, that she was a genius, “Well,” she said, “I have an atypical intelligence.” She rushes on, knowing that if she paused at all, the nurse would interject, would cut her off. She felt like it was important for them to understand. “It affects the way I think about things. I…I…”
The nurse was making notes.
This morning, as she entered the town where she works at a state-funded Recovery Education Center, she had the thought that, as she knows, what she most wants to do is be useful, to make good use of herself, to maximize benefit of her time and energy, of her personhood, for both herself and the well-being of others.
She doesn’t understand why she feels sheepish when she thinks that she might really be able to help some people. It’s strange for her to feel a rush of humility, almost self-deprecation, an uncomfortable self-consciousness in response to her considering the possibility that she might really be able to help some people. Not with the whole proving God thing, but with how she has figured out how to live with big ideas and a bounding heart, a seriously glitchy nervous system and the legacies of being a teenage mental patient. She used to want to die, and even tried to die, once or maybe twice, and thought about dying and felt like dying, like maybe she was actually dying, and now she is grateful not to have died, because the world is still an interesting and beautiful place to her.
She doesn’t want to write an inspirational mental health memoir about how she always knew she was different and how her family history was riddled with reclusivity and anxieties, a possible suicide that nobody talks about, a rebel in the bloodline, nervous disorders and melancholias, spells. She didn’t write about how getting her diagnosis helped it all make sense, and how she finally found the right doctor and the right medication and could lead a healthy productive life and have a successful career.
She can’t write that story, because it isn’t her story. Some days, she doesn’t even know if she wants to tell her story, or what she hopes would come about from her making some sort of book about her life as an atypical person with non-usual experiences.
What would be the point of telling this story?
She knows that she is not the only person in the world to grapple with strange and intense human experiences that frighten, elate, and disorient reality. She knows that she is not the only person in the world whose life has been impacted by having an out of control nervous system that always thinks you’re in danger or dying. There are probably millions of people who have a cognitive processing style similar to hers, that makes quick associations and tests probabilities and notices patterns and is always figuring at all the different possible ways an event, even a tiny event, a song on the radio, might be interpreted.
Lots of people feel things deeply. Lots of people have strange ideas.
Some ideas are dangerous.
She knows that she is not the only person who has tried to die, who has wanted to die.
“If I really wanted to be effective,” she thinks to herself, sitting on her porch with mosquitoes lighting on her arms, blowing them away, a sharp stream of air from the side of her mouth, “I’d just…”
She knows that she could make YouTube videos where she talks about how she learned how to not feel so freaked out that she wanted to die, and how sensations of fear can steer our experience into distress, how she learned how to not be so afraid, not to have so much fear in her body and in her mind. She could put on makeup and be interesting.
There are people arguing down on the street as she considers all the ways she might be able to be more useful in the ways she does her work as Certified Peer Support Specialist and Qualified Mental Health Professional.
She feels a little bit of a wry smile in knowing that she doesn’t really want to approach this from a Mental Health Professional angle, whatever that might be. There is little consistency in what exactly constitutes a Mental Health Professional, or what that might bring to how something is discussed.
People don’t usually listen to people who don’t have Ph.Ds and professorships at prestigious universities. Sometimes they do, but not usually.
She used to be an unemployed, ex-genius mother of two who lost her mind and tried to prove God with pictures of clouds.
Now, she is an underemployed mental health professional who sits on her porch at night and endlessly tries to figure out how to write a concise pitch for a book that details the formative events and fundamental mechanics of cognition and perception that contributed to her experience of psychosis.
What happens when someone experiments with seeing the world in a different way? That depends entirely on the someone, and what they pay attention to, what they see as important, significant.
She got laid off from her job, her marriage was dead, and her dog got hit by a car. When she couldn’t stop crying in the office, her doctor increased her prescription of the anti-depressant she had been on for years, and while she did not stop crying, she she did stop sleeping, and began to stay up late thinking about things.
Because she was unemployed, she had time to sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes, draw pictures and look at the sky. Type out notes and long explanations, internal dialogue, partial thoughts, veiled and cryptic musings about what, really, was going on.
She’d started emailing herself almost a year before, when she started her blog about drawing a picture everyday for a year. There wasn’t anyone else she could talk with about the things she thought about, the things that were happening, what she saw in herself and in her life, in the world.
In the Fall, as a ritual in her dying marriage, she was required to receive a psychological evaluation, even though she was still mostly okay, the year before she lost her mind, the years before that, when her children were young. She got upset when she and her husband had an argument, some strained grievance with one another. She didn’t know how to calm down sometimes, until everything was alright again. But, she was mostly okay. She hadn’t fallen into a depression in years. She was happy to be alive.
Nonetheless, it was required of her to receive a psychological evaluation, because she still had the scar on her arm from the bad morning when she was twenty three, and her husband knew about the times she went to the hospital, had met her when the scar was still brand new. He knew that she’d been ‘sent away’ when she was a kid, that she’d struggled with depression. He had watched her withdraw from Effexor on a cross country road trip in the winter with two dogs in the van while four weeks pregnant. Sick and shaking and crying on the backseat, the smell of coffee and dogs egging on her persistent nausea, adding accent to the strange bolts of numbness and tingling that shot through her arms as the drug slowly left her system. She had no idea that withdrawal from a psychiatric medication could make a person so woefully ill and unstable. Her doctor had simply told her to stop taking it. She was a mess.
These things are remembered when one is looking for flaws, vulnerabilities, concerns.
There were mental health concerns, even when she was still mostly okay.
Within the results of her interview and reported history were the results of her Intelligence Quotient tests.
She had forgotten that she was smart in some ways, smarter in some ways than in others.
It bothers her, sitting on the back porch in the falling night, that she should feel a cowering feeling in the core of her. That there is an impulse to retract, to mitigate the boldness of her statement of smartness with some fun-making remark about how foolish she really is.
She is smart enough to know that the best evidence of her wisdom is in her knowing that she is a totally fucking idiot in a lot of ways.
Those tests don’t measure wisdom, they don’t measure grace. They do not measure the genius heart. They measure something though, albeit imprecisely and by methods inescapably biased. They measure something about how a person thinks, how they solve problems and make associations, how well they can utilize things like working memory, how adept a person is at seeing patterns and making connections between seemingly disparate information or concepts.
She is a statistical outlier. She was a statistical outlier when she was a kid. Always a couple standard deviations away from the norm. Nothing much was ever said about it, other than that she was smart. She wasn’t that smart though. She didn’t think so. School was a drag. She liked to learn about things though, and liked a focused task, an essay or a book to read. Dates to remember. She liked the feeling of learning, of registering new information, of seeing things differently than she had before, of understanding something about the world.
She didn’t think there was anything unusual about this, and assumed that other people probably experienced the world in much the same way she did. Other people seemed more at ease, but she didn’t imagine that she was much different. Her living in the woods and only having three channels of television and having a park ranger for a father and a house filled with books and interesting things like the rattles of rattlesnakes had as much to do with her auto-didactic science nerd leanings as her cognitive processing style did. Her mother was a librarian at the small library near the elementary school and she would walk there in the afternoons, lay on the floor and read book after book, many of them two and three times over. She edged into the adult fiction, Stephen King.
She lied about the number of times she had been hospitalized, left out the two worst, because she did not know if the results of her test would be brought into court, or what the results may say about her if she told the whole truth about what she experienced and what she thought, about her life, the things that define her in herself that she doesn’t tell anyone else about.
September 1, 2018, 9:26AM
The writing becomes a problem when she cannot take care of other things she needs to take care of, the house, the job. When she is pulled from her relationships with people in her life.
She becomes distracted, absorbed in either writing or thinking about writing.
It is possible that the more she writes, the more the quality of her writing declines. However, the experience of writing, the exhilaration of accumulating words, phrase and sentence weaving jumbled elegant onto the page. She knows it’s just a flow state, that makes her want to keep writing. She knows, also, that what she experiences as jumbled elegance while she is writing may well merely be producing a heap of unintelligible detritus as read by any other human being.
She doesn’t know what she is doing. She feels a rush of fear. What would she give up for writing. She ought to be doing the dishes right now.
Is she obsessed with this idea for a book? Is the whole thing a fucking delusion? Is she just crazy and can’t write at all? Will never, ever finish the book, will just go all to the entropy of trying.
She understands that these things are possibilities. Can reckon with that.
It is stupid to not be able to let an idea go. The idea is a delusion. The delusion is that she had a series of life experiences that formed her up into being a person with what may be measureably unique insights into challenges with mental health and emotional well-being. She believes that she can help people, because she learned a lot in trying to figure out how not to want to die and in how to see and experience beauty in the world, how to love being alive.
That really is the crux of it.
She believes that if she can write a coherent and engaging enough book that utilizes experiential narrative prose to beautifully communicate key concepts in reframing perceptions of mental illness through taking into account factors of neurodiversity and adverse lived experiences, that people might be able to make sense of what is going on when people lose their minds, or at least have an example of one person’s experience.
unlearning fear and understanding personal mechanics of experience (thought and emotion, reality formation) that she —
September 26, 2:32PM
She has worked as a Peer Support Specialist for the past seven years, in a semi-rural college town in the western region of a southern state. The place she works is called the Recovery Education Center.
In 2015, she got her MA in psychology from an easy-to-get-into school in California with roots in the humanistic tradition.
It is strange to her, that even without considering what she learned in her own experience of dealing with significant mental health challenges, that she should question whether or not she can help people. I mean, that is what she does for a living.
What is this terrible self-defacing doubt in her own potential usefulness?
Why would she think that being an ex-genius who used to want to die and now loves to be alive might not have anything of use to say on the subject of her own lived experience and perspectives pertaining to her own mental health and reasons to live?
It comes down to the question of whether her experience and her telling about it may be useful and informative to other people.
She does not know if it would be. It absolutely would not be useful to a great many people.
She thinks about all the people who are creative thinkers and the strange directions that big ideas can pull our lives in, and how she learned how to live peaceably with big ideas and a lurking sense of some greater purpose. She has had to renegotiate her perception that her current life is ‘not what she is supposed to be doing,’ and the belief that certain aspects of her life are actively preventing her from rising into what she imagines her full potential to be.
She knows she is enough, that her life is enough. That even if she doesn’t write a book, she can be happy in her life.
Still, because she knows that everything that we do and everything we do not do has some impact on our lives, creates some effect in the world we live in and in the lives intertwined with our lives, she cannot help but to consider the possibility that her telling the story of how she managed to lose her mind and make sense of it all might help some person who is struggling better understand their experience, or help them to figure out how to deal with problematic realities and beliefs.
She really doesn’t want to write a mental health recovery manual. She just wants to write about her life, and how she has figured she turned out the way she has turned out, why she believes what she believes and feels things the ways she feels them, thinks in the way that she does.
She wants to write about how she learned about happiness and feelings of peacefulness, about how she learned and experienced fear, the things that scared her most, how she learned to pay attention to those fears and adjust the power they have over her nervous system and perception of herself and the world. She wants to write about how she learned to make sense of reality, because she believes that everybody – at some point or another – struggles to know both what is real and what is really important.
The second level of the delusion that this book is born from is that she really can write a book that stimulates dialogue on the crazy numinous beauty in the world, or inspire someone else to look at the everyday
phenomena of their thoughts and feelings with a deeper understanding of how everything is connected in creating our experience.
There is a part of her, a persuasive kernel of belief, that still considers the possibility that maybe she was right, maybe there is something to the idea that if people could look at the world and imagine what they might notice in the sky if they’d never watched television, that maybe something in their humanness would find it beautiful, that they might be able to feel beauty, not just the beauty of a sunset, but the beauty of knowing for a split second what it might be like to see something in the sky and to believe that god or the spirits are talking with you, telling you something of yourself and of the world in the ideas that you have while watching the wind, in the sensation in your gut as you face a simple truth.
The simplest truth she had to face was that the world as she sees it is immeasurably old, and that her entire life experience means very little, is minuscule beyond her imagination, and that everything always is changing and that everything always is connected.
The deeper delusion is that something like God wants her to use her experience, the fiber of her being, everything she is that she never asked to be and all that she brought into life within herself, that she stubbornly kept alive within herself, to make something beautiful in the world, something that might help some disaffected and disconnected person in a dark room somewhere at the very least have something to think about other than their own numbly writhing misery.
The very deepest delusion is that, somehow, through telling the story of how she lost her mind trying to prove God with clouds a series of remarkable epiphanies may occur in the collective consciousness that will somehow ‘make the world a better place’ through helping people to understand what is most shared among us, these fleeting constructions of our lives and economies, what we are all scared of and long for, and that maybe people will see that they don’t need all of the things they have been taught to believe that they need, they will see that the simplest solution is to look at the people we love and the people we hate with the same curiosity, with the same love, with the same same deep appreciation for the people that they are and the strange phenomena of circumstance that create us, and that somehow this will perhaps help to end war.
She understands that this a great leap, an absurdity of her most unrealistic child-mind and her most fervently hopeful heart, her most fearful mourning.
September 2, 2018 9:11AM
She is one of those people that “everyone always says should be a writer.”
She is one of those people that everyone always says “should write a book.”
People told her she should be a writer before they told her she should write a book, before she had anything observable in her life that may indicate that she had some story in her that is worth telling.
They liked her letters, the essays she wrote for school. The way she talked or explained things, moving her hands in the air, making punctuations, drawing out pauses.
“You should be a teacher.” This is another thing that people told her.
“You should be a clinician,” her co-worker, a clinician, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, told her, just day before yesterday in the hot morning behind the dumpster, smoking cigarettes and staffing clients, students.
“Why aren’t you a clinician? I mean, that’s the work you do, you’re doing clinical work.”
“No, not really. I’m just teaching people practices. Talking to them about their lives and how they think about their lives.”
“You should totally be a clinician.”
The reason she does not want to be a clinician, would never be a clinician, is because of, a) the licensing process that she understands would be a pain in the ass to go through, b) the work within the non-profit industrial system or the hassle of becoming a private provider, c) the diagnosing, and the requirement that she become educated in diagnosis, that she sit in classrooms and have discussions of Case Studies and learn to apply the correct differentials in determining which disorder ought to be applied to the person’s name in their Electronic Client Record.
She could not do that work, because she does not entirely believe in the accuracy of diagnoses, and believes that sometimes diagnoses can confuse people about their experiences, muddy their understanding of where it comes from and what they might be able to do to change it.
The effort to create a reliable and functional classification of the mental disorders, of all the ways that people can be troubled in their heads and hearts, in their behaviors and lives, is appreciable. She appreciates the effort, and sees that, yes, there are consistent ways that things go wrong, and these ways manifest in a sometimes predictable manner, and that, yes, there are similarities, some patterns, in the ways people are scared and miserable and confused about what is real.
The etiology is all wrong to her though, the murky explanations, the lack of explanation. The recommendations are all wrong to her, to seek professional help and the requisite proper medication.
Maybe they are not wrong for everybody. They are wrong for her though, and she doesn’t want to participate in systems that invest in the validity of the diagnostic medical model of mental illness, because she thinks it’s unethical, to give people misinformation, or partial information, about what is happening in their lives, to deliver dire simple answers, a biological imbalance, a disease, a disorder, possibly genetic, often lifelong, from across a desk, a space of floor, calmly, almost placid, wearing clean shoes and drawing a paycheck, making the referral for a medication evaluation, sending the person out the door with a card, come back Tuesday, to walk back into their life, their precious singular life, their life that is coming apart in some way or another that matters to them, their life that they mourn the loss of the desire to live, their life fraught with fear or blasted open with the adrenaline of the big ideas that they can’t stop thinking about. To sit down at a table, elbow on Formica, to hear the sound of the television from the dark living room and to feel the brightness of the day outside pressing into against the closed blinds. To think about what’s really wrong. To put the appointment card on the refrigerator.
September 3, 2018 10:49AM
The question is not whether or not I am still crazy. That’s debatable. There are aspects of my experience that may well fall within the catchment of crazy, depending on how one defines the parameters of what is sane and what is not sane. Some people believe that once a person becomes as crazy as she was, they are not the same, that they are vulnerable to additional episodes, further deterioration.
She considers the objective, observable facts of her life, her self. Is she deteriorating?
Has she never actually recovered?
Did she really only dodge a potentially worse fate, and not actually end up bounding into a life of self-realized potential and a wealth of happiness as she tries to imagine that she has, as she has experienced?
Is she ignoring reality?
She doesn’t have health insurance. She doesn’t earn enough money to live on. Her house is messy and too much to take care.
She is happy though, because her children are healthy and well-adapted to the people they are, the circumstances of their adolescent lives. They have positive interests and show no sign of delinquency.
She is happy because she is loved by a remarkable person who sees her with unconditional positive regard, and loves her for who she is. “You don’t ever have to write a book,” this person tells her. “I don’t care if you have a house or a book or a dime to your name. I love you. You are my best friend.”
In the late-afternoons, she runs up hills, and believes that anything is possible.
She is able to feel like she might fall apart at any minute and still pull it all together and go to work. She is able to live with complicated glitches in her experience and how she feels. She knows who she is, and what she loves. She has activities that please and engage her. Friends that she deeply respects, but hardly ever contacts, because she is trying to write a book. Always trying to write.
Although she can look at her life and recognize that she is waaaaaaaay better off than she might be, she also knows, with that sort of deep solemn knowing, that she is happiest when she thinks about having a different sort of life, a life where she could just be the person she is and sit around and write all day, go walk around in mountains and deserts.
That is another delusion. That she should get to have a life in which she is able to do the things she wants most to do, which are to love and to write, and to look around at people and nature.
It reflects her privilege, this belief, that she should have a life that she enjoys.
She feels guilty for wanting a life that she enjoys when so many people have miserable lives and jobs that are much, much more difficult to tolerate than her job.
She doesn’t want any sort of luxury. She doesn’t want anything fancy or indulgent. She wants to live in a van, or in motel rooms, in a tent. She doesn’t want to have to go to work, to structure her life around the impositions of set repetitive schedules, things she has to do in order to keep her life from caving in. She doesn’t have health insurance, and yet she must continue working in her job, because she cannot figure out how to find another job that she could actually do without falling apart under the strain of meeting and knowing new people, learning new tasks. She doesn’t want to do it. She has spent her adult life anchoring to jobs, and she knows what it takes to get a job, to show up for an interview, to present some version of oneself as employable. To be seen in some way based on the information contained in her resume.
When she thinks about changing jobs, getting a different job, she feels like she cannot breathe. She doesn’t think she could do it.
After her last hospitalization, she did not apply for disability, because she did not want to be disabled and because there were things that she could do. She has a college degree. She has valuable occupational experience as an educator and human services professional. She knew that she could pull something together, when she had to get a job after her last hospitalization.
She knew that she could find something part-time, because she could not work full time. She had never been able to work full time without beginning to fall apart in ways that made working impossible and which she did not know how to control.
She doesn’t think that she doesn’t want to work because she is lazy or entitled. She doesn’t think that she deserves an easy life.
She doesn’t think she has had an easy life. Her life almost killed her.
She wants a life she can be good at, a life that doesn’t slowly stress-wreck the person that she is.
The woman who did the parenting class she was required to attend told her she ought to “clean up, don’t wear those ratty sweaters, don’t talk about the writing, whatever all that is.”
The woman was kind, trying to be helpful, making suggestions as to how she might become more employable.
September 3, 4:40PM
She knows the idea is a delusion, and wonders if – because she knows –
it still counts as a delusion.
Last night, she laid in her bed with the computer on her lap, with her
hair fuzzing out from her long braid, her glasses crooked on her face,
and read over what she had written, was able to see it objectively,
with the eye of an editor, a researcher.
“This is sad,” she thought neutrally, not feeling much of a feeling of
sadness, just the flat reckoning with a reality that she did not
especially want to see, but nonetheless was there, spelled out, page
after page of fragmented memory, the tone of bargaining, the dead ends
Her room held a thin scrim of clutter around her, wires bent and
twisted on the desk, a dust of dried tobacco, laundry in a basket on
the blue chair that used to be green, that used to be in her
Downstairs, there were cheap empty white shelves in the main hall. She
had moved them there two days before, after emptying them of their
contents, an old olive jar filled with stained paintbrushes, a pocket
Hebrew dictionary. A small wooden chest she had had since she was
young, which used to hold the thick and yellowing prayer cards she
took from the drawer of the end table by the settee in her
great-grandmother’s cavern of a living room. There was a moment of
thin excitement, not knowing what she’d find, opening the chest after
she pulled it from the shelf. The chest was empty save for a thin
spill of beads across the bottom, green and blue, glassine and milky.
She walked past the shelves in the hall yesterday, and wondered how
long it would take her to move them down to the street.
The house was full of half-finished things.
If she didn’t write, she’d have plenty of time to move shelves, to
move the two decommissioned aquariums from the front porch down to the
weed-filled strip of grass and dirt between the sidewalk and the
street in front of the house. To set things down there for people to
She’d have plenty of time to clean the house, to wipe away the thin
webs of spiders that gathered in the corners of the windows, to wet
down the floors and remove the dust of the street and the trees, the
dust of the house slowly crumbling, the minuscule detritus that
drifted in from the world outside and down from the ceilings
The idea is a delusion. That she should be a writer, that she has some
book in her.
She has tried for 8 years to write a book.
It is ruining her life.
She cannot let it go though, and she knows this is a problem.
If she were some other person, she might be able to simply set aside
her pernicious idea of writing a book. She could settle into her work
at the Recovery Education Center more fully, become a Lead Peer, go
running in the forest like she does, more fully enjoy being at a high
school football game, listening to her daughter play in the marching
band. Not be distracted all the time by thinking about writing, about
writing the book.
She could spend time painting, and make a garden again.
Maybe she would have friends again?
That would not be a bad life.
The book she wants to write was born of delusion. There are quiet
motivations that run in the background of her thinking about why she
wants to write a book, what she thinks might happen if she writes a
book. She can recognize these quiet motivations as delusions.
She will not win the Nobel Peace Prize. She will not end wars.
She knows that this is not possible.
The thing that nags her though, everyday, the thing thing that has
nagged her for years, is that maybe she could help someone make sense
of their reality, so that they don’t completely lose their mind and do
something terrible or foolish, hurt themselves or other people, that
maybe she could help someone better understand why they feel the way
they feel, why they believe what they believe, how they might think
about the world or see the world.
She knows that she might not be able to help everybody, that she
cannot save the world, but she also knows that she might be able to
help some people.
“People will find the help they need,” she tells herself. “It’s not
like what you have some special help that people can’t get elsewhere.”
She knows, however, that this is not true.
There are lots of people who need help and don’t get it. Or they get
help, but it is not the help they need. People die. It happens.
She tells herself that it is not her responsibility to save anyone.
She only has to live her life in the best way that she possibly can,
to just do the best she can to help where she is able.
When she was 15 years old, disaffected and glowering in the passenger
seat of the Jeep Cherokee, driving into town with her mother at the
wheel, she saw a rare apparently homeless person standing on the side
of Highway 40 and King’s Bay Road, there right in her little hometown.
She’d seen plenty of homeless people before, in Jacksonville, driving
through the streets near the river, going to this doctor’s appointment
or that one. The hospital, the orthopedic surgeon, the
ophthalmologist. All of the neighborhoods surrounding river were
filled with people walking slowly in the heat, limping and lurching,
silvery and rusted carts piled with bags and bags, slumping in the
shade of the oaks and azaleas at the edges of the parking lots,
sleeping on benches, not waiting for buses. She’d never seen a
homeless person in her town though, not in her hometown. He was
holding a sign, asking for work, for food. “Hungry,” the sign said.
It was not unusual for her to have thoughts come into her head. All
day long she was thinking. The thought that came into her head when
she saw the homeless man by the highway was different though. It was
clear and solemn. It came with a feeling, a certain gravity in the
center of her. It felt like truth. “If you see a way that you could
help and you turn from that, if you do nothing, that is as good as
She didn’t know where the thought came from. She didn’t care about
sin. Didn’t think about sin. She wasn’t religious. She hated religion,
listened to hyper-analytical punk rock deconstructing the mammoth
pogroms of the world, God and capitalism.
Still, this thought lodged in her as some kind of truth, and made her
feel badly if she didn’t help in some way that she saw that she could,
made her feel selfish and cowardly, guilty.
“Turn the car around,” she told her mother. “I want to go home.”
Her mother was confused, hit the brakes. “What do you mean?”
The girl could feel a quick-blooming urgency in her, an upset rising.
“Just turn the car around.”
September 3, 2019 5:23PM
More about school
Moving, more about moving
Essay on google
The first day she walked into the classroom at the Recovery Education Center, she didn’t know what to say to the double-tabled rows of adults looking at her. They were worn out and beleaguered looking folks, one too-thin young man sprawled with his legs out, appeared asleep. A woman wore bright blue eyeliner. Her hair was falling out. They were poor people. Adults. They weren’t kids or teenagers. They were adults.
She got the job, in part, because she’d been able to talk about inquiry-based education and working with adult learners when she was a literacy tutor out in Oregon. “So, today is my first day.”
September 5, 2018 1:31AM
September 5, 2018 12:41PM
I wish that I didn’t have this perception that you seem to think that I am inevitably on the precipice of some major breakdown.
That makes me feel like shit.
I’m going to go into this store and continue to be okay and even well despite having had insufficient sleep because I knew I got good rest on the weekend, and know (though do not always heed, due to necessity or foolishness) my limitations and what I need to do keep myself reasonably well in the ways that matter to me.
I appreciate both your reflex to be concerned as well as your setting boundaries around participating in things that may position you in a role of concerned caretaker…I am not going to let anything bad or critically destabilizing happen in my life.
I wish you didn’t worry about me in that way. That’s not really a position I am comfortable with, the person who people are concerned about.
I get it though, why you’d be concerned.
September 8, 2018, 11:49AM
She met him downtown while she was playing her banjo on a dark bench near College and Lexington, those same three chords, C, d minor, Open G.
Compared to the raggedly jaunty or impressively skilled music that drifted from the real buskers over near the more crowded corners, the broad sidewalks of Biltmore, her playing was atonal and pausing, almost mournful drifting from the edge of the pay parking lot where no one hung out.
He was an old man, short and like a sea captain, white hair and a stocky, limping body. He set his styrofoam container down on the bench, “Can I sit down?”
She settled the instrument, the banjo with the curling name of Silver Princess arcing across its headstock, so the neck lay across her chest like a sword at rest.
He was a little winded as he carefully leaned his body to the bench, straightening his right leg in front of him and then pulling it up at the knee to plant his cheap padded work boot firmly on the sidewalk.
She wasn’t scared of him. She wasn’t scared of anyone anymore, because she could not care what happened to her, so she didn’t care what happened to her. She had to be fearless, because when she was scared, she could not move and her whole internal existence tumbled into everything she most dreaded.
Before she went to the hospital, she’d gotten into a car, a man’s car, and asked him to simply drive her around the block. There was a FunYuns bag on the floorboard. She could smell it. “Why are you doing this?” The young black man had stopped to ask if the woman needed a ride, because she was standing by the side of the road like someone who was trying to flag down a ride, even though her hands were by her sides, she looked a little like she needed a ride, or needed help.
“I’m just practicing. I wanted to prove to myself that I could.” She stated plainly, as if this weren’t a strange answer at all, and thanked the man before he dropped her back off near her house.
She is ashamed and frightened when she remembers this about herself, that she had done this thing.
“You have to tell the truth,” she reminds herself as a she writes, but knows that while she will not lie, there are some stories she will not tell, because to tell them would mean that she would have to look at all the crazy, stupid, sad things she had done and thought and believed. Those things would be written in stone, if she wrote them. Every crazy person has their secrets. Every human being has their secrets.
She was humiliated as she sat there, regarding the man she saw as a sailor, a captain even, in the look of him. The humiliation was constant. She tried to be bright in her spirit, braiding her hair and putting on mascara, the soft gold dress that she wore with a sweater, fancy but worn out and demure. She had no idea why she was going to play banjo downtown. She hardly knew how to play. As constant as the humiliation, there was an unceasing drive in her to find or to make something beautiful, something redemptive, something interesting. It was maddening and sad to be at the house alone, with no children, taking pills, laying stunned in bed, not knowing what to do, suffocating under the weight of neuroleptics and the grave truth of how royally she had fucked up her life.
She’d been out of the hospital for three weeks. The days were still warm, but getting colder.
She didn’t care what happened to her. She just wanted something to happen. Nothing was happening sitting at home. There was no telepathic consortium contacting her. The clouds persisted in looking like faces and bones, but her feeling about them was flat, bludgeoned by dopamine antagonists.
She wasn’t scared of him. He had, she believed, a kindness to him. A benevolence. He was old, with bright blue eyes, a truckers cap and worn work pants.
“I like your banjo playing.”
“Eh,” she shrugged, “I’m just learning. I don’t really know how to play.”
She’d had the banjo for years and had learned just enough to play alone for a long time, variations around the same chords, fingerpickings and strums. She couldn’t stand the way the instrument sounded beyond the fifth fret, so there wasn’t too far she could ever go in the half-songs she played over and over again, until she wasn’t thinking about playing at all, until her fingers found some rhythm or falter that they liked, until some energy rose in her and she was just playing, vibrating with the space in the open back of the Silver Princess.
She got enough out of that. She didn’t need more. Still, she had needed something to do. Somewhere to go. “I’m just practicing.”
He sold tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market, and slept in the cab of his big old Chevy. Told her about this, and seemed perfectly happy. His leg was bad, a vascular problem. He has diabetes, offers her part of his left-over meal, chicken strips and limp lukewarm fries.
“What do you do? Are you an artist or something?” She felt ashamed, being asked about herself.
“Not really.” She is always shrugging lately. “I am…”
“My life is kind of a mess.”
That is how they became friends. He talked to her on the phone while she cleaned the kitchen, getting ready for the visit from the DSS worker. They drove all the way to Hendersonville to eat a random Bojangles. She recorded him talking with her about his perfectly ordinary life, his childhood in the Northeast, his time in the service. He wanted it for his daughters, who he lived with, one and then the other, when the market season paused for the winter. He showed her vast expanses of chrysanthemums, a million perfect Fibonacci expansions of brilliant yellow sprawling across the pavement of the backside of the Farmer’s Market. He told her about the problems with his neighbors, their fights in the RV, the kids at the very backstall, the less-than-prime stall.
“Nobody comes down here,” holding his arm up toward the busier central stalls of the market. “They don’t send anyone down this way, so we just sit here and wave at the people who do come down here so they can turn around and get out of here.”
They talked about God and praying to saints while they ate fried chicken. He was Catholic. She didn’t know what to believe, but was glad to have someone to talk to.
When the season ended, he moved south to live with his daughter, and she went back to doing what she was doing, which was being a crazy person with no friends. Peter, the elder sailor, said they’d call, they’d keep in touch. She said they’d call, they’d keep in touch. She knew she wouldn’t, and was okay with that.
He was her friend though. She understood that maybe he was helping her. That he was doing her good by keeping her busy, by showing her flowers, giving her somewhere to go. Listening as she didn’t say much about her life. Praying for her because he was a person who prays.
She doesn’t know why she thought about the Illuminati. This is what people in America think about when they go crazy? She had never cared about the Illuminati, other than liking the sound of the word, it’s meaning.
When one believes to consider, in the effort to try to make sense of why they are experiencing what they are experiencing in their head and their perception, the possibility of things like international telepath consortiums, they eventually happen upon the idea of the Illuminati, or the US Government, or some other shady powerful shit that people have seen a dozen movies about. We love spies.
Because she is an American, she had access to these ideas of espionage and orchestration and programs and people who may have the technological capacity to infiltrate and manipulate and surveil the happenings in the world. She had visuals of dark rooms and hundred-light control panels, bays of computer monitors. She could imagine herself a bright pulse on a screen.
She also thought, perhaps, that there are some great and powerful metaconsciousness running the world, doing some work of covert advising and monitoring, creating of impulses and scenarios, puppeting the world by some means of a dispersed network of Supra beings and primary channels of electromagnetic flow. She lives in a city where the bulletin board at the health food store is plastered with purple and blue and golden flyers for yoga retreats and transcendental meditation workshops, electronic dance music concerts. She knows what hive mind looks like.
She thought that everyone was connected, but that maybe some people were more connected than others and that, somehow, she was one of those people.
It made sense to her. Of course. She was a person with a weird-ass IQ who had lost her mind at least a few times, was all broken-as-fuck. They’d never see her coming. She was a genius. She grew up in a dome on land she believed was haunted. She almost died, but didn’t and was once visited by an all white bird that beat its wings furiously against her closed bedroom window. She was, she thought, good in her heart. She had a good heart, a strong heart. This is what she knew of herself and believed of herself.
“It was just some overcompensatory shit that I made up to not feel like such a loser.”
“I needed to have something to believe in.”
“I felt all alone, forsaken.”
“Something in me broke open, and the world became strange.”
I did not understand why the things that were happening were happening. How something observably strange, but nonetheless also observably real, the held substance of a book pulled from under the oven, where the cat is meowing and meowing, trying to get at something. There is nothing there except the book, an old paperback copy of Chaka from her African literature class fifteen years ago.
This might be dismissible to a person who was not her. Possibly strange, but ultimately dismissible. The day prior a wasp had been sitting right in the sunlight by her open front door, she moved to walk past it, because she is not scared of wasps, and goes about her business near them. It doesn’t move, and she pauses, looks at it, seeing if it is alive. It’s abdomen moves up and down, like a tiny metronome. It’s antennae slowly waver, sending something she cannot see.
She left her phone on the stair post just last week to return and find a massive praying mantis posed upon the black plastic.
The clouds had begun to look peculiar to her, like letters. She had seen, the other evening, what she would have sworn was an eye, a perfectly proportioned human eye wrought in rain-building clouds.
She wondered how she could be losing her mind if these things were really happening. Suspicions and murky explanations began to show up in her thinking. She felt increasingly strange, as though something in her was shaking, and humming. When she was around other people, she was nervous and flat, her mind elsewhere, wondering what was going on. She only felt peaceful alone, drawing and thinking.
In many ways, the delusion saved her, gave her a sense of purpose, some way that her life and her recovery might be important beyond her damaged existence as a mother, beyond her own life enjoyment. The prospect of having a life where she was an umemployed mother of two who couldn’t see her kids was not enjoyable to her. She tried to imagine a different future, where she gets over herself and her crazy, stupid ideas and, sure, she can still do art, but she can get a job and straighten up and clean the house and stop hurting people by being crazy.
For all her great ideas and bounding analysis, she could figure out how to get out of the mess she’d made, or who she was within it. She was a nobody, a loser.
She prayed fervently to a God she was not sure, after all, existed and tried hard to muster the feeling of belief, the sensation of being protected, loved, looked out for.
She felt nothing, was alone.
Still, the idea, because it was a big idea, a powerful idea in her consciousness and experience, persisted. In the context of a story where an undetected half-mad genius light stumbles upon a simple proof of something that might have been seen and felt as God a long time ago, if she really had somehow pushed through some veil in herself, broke herself wide open to the sort of metaphysical planes she’d only seen on album covers, well, in that story, well of course she is going to have a trial, a gauntlet, a great many of them. In that story, built of delusion, she had to persevere, to make something worthwhile in the thing that she was, by virtue of her divine vocation as proffered upon her by the bright spirit of her favorite dead uncle, the purpose of her type of intelligence, her way of being. She is a creative, doing what creatives do, which is make things out of other things, and try out different ways of seeing how things work together, solving problems, exploring.
Even as she was losing her mind, she understood that this was a part of it, her creativity, the person she is, the way she thinks.
September 12.2019 10:45AM
When she went to boarding school in the mountains, she stopped getting
angry. She could not get angry at boarding school. She was rarely
alone. She still felt strange though, disconnected in herself somehow.
Not excited to do much.
One night, she fell out of her top bunk bed, after sitting straight up
and pointing at the floor, exclaiming, “A snake, there is a snake
They walked up the side of the mountain in the late-Winter, when
everything is brown and dead and damp, thin pine trees straggling up
the slope toward the worn down ridges, not even a real peak, just a
slow curve and dip down into the saddle of land that joins it to
another mountain. They called them mountains, because in the state of
Georgia, they were the closest thing to mountains that they had, the
small tendril of the Blue Ridge Parkway cut through by highway 441.
There were only four of them, the English as a Second Language teacher
and her husband, who lived on campus with his teacher wife and made
chairs out of old muscadine vines, old twisted laurel he found in the
higher elevations north of them.
She and a boy from the Hollingsworth dorm were the only students who
came. He was quiet and thin, moved like a skeleton through the woods
ahead of them, some boy from Tennessee that didn’t talk to anyone. She
liked him, because while she talked to people more, she felt the same
sort of quiet in her, an okayness in being alone.
She breathed hard going up the hill, and listened as the teacher, a
young blond woman with short golden hair and a Master’s from Columbia
disclosed that she had miscarried, that they had planned to name the
baby after her sister. Camille.
The teacher was her friend. They had sat in the clean sunny kitchen of
their small faculty cottage and listened to Chris Isaac sing about not
wanting to fall in love. The teacher had told her about going to the
city, to New York, and how she had stopped shaving her legs, because
she wanted to feel protected.
She felt calm around the teacher, calm and at ease with herself,
understanding that people can be scared and quit shaving their legs
and still become teachers, can still have nice lives. Can work through
the cold winter in the city.
When there was a cold front down from Canada, she signed out from the
dorm and took her bike out onto the road behind the school, riding up
and up and up, past tiny shambling houses, trucks hugging the middle
of the road to pass her as the cold air burnt into her lungs and her
legs pumped hard up the hills. The air was damp and cold, full of
woodsmoke. She felt like she could ride forever. Coasting back down
the hill, she saw the buildings of the school peak through a clearing
at a bend in the road and saw how far she’d gone, knew that she’d be
in trouble for missing her sign-in time, being late for dinner.
She woke up at 5:00 am every morning and called her mother using the
1-800 number her parents had set up for her to contact them from the
payphone in the upstairs hall kitchen. Everybody else slept until at
least 6:00. She liked to get up early, when everything was quiet and
the halls were wide and still, the yellow-gold light of wall-mounted
lamps punctuating the early morning dark of the place.
She didn’t mind boarding school, no more than she minded the public
high school that she had finally simply refused to return to mid-way
through her first semester as a ninth grader. The school used to be a
reform school, but was “transitioning to a preparatory academy.” The
kids were a mixed bag, troubled and privileged. There were rumors of
sex in the vestibule. Almost everyone dipped tobacco and drank
robitussin in their rooms on at least one Saturday night after an
outing in town, where they’d file through the aisles of the Revco drug
store, gathering candy and cough syrup. On Sunday mornings, they were
supposed to attend church, either in the chapel or in town. A bus
would drive them to the church they wanted to go to. Sometimes she
went to the Episcopal service, and never knew the words to the hymns.
Most Sundays, she pressed herself under her bed until she was
perfectly still against the wall, straining to hear the sounds of
rooms being checked by the house parent so she could ready herself, so
she could stop breathing, be even more still, so still she wasn’t
moving at all. The house parent’s Reebok’s would creep across the
carpet, varicose veins on her ankles, pause, and then turn, closing
the door behind her. She spent the whole morning eating sugared kool
aid mix out of the container and reading, small red stars of dyed sugar crusting
down into the spine of whatever book she held.
Over the summer, she and her brother took wilderness trips, a month
long, backpacking and rafting through Wyoming and Montana and parts of
She didn’t know why she did not want to go back there in the Fall. Why
she wanted to try to go to public high school again. Again, she could
not tolerate it, began to refuse to go. When she had to go, sullenly
stalking into the building, scowling at the smell of school that
poured out from the front doors, she only stayed a few hours. She
would get a headache, and go to the office, call home, get picked up.
September 11, 2018 11:33PM
Proving God With Clouds: The Autofiction of an American Delusion
She did not know she was doing autofiction. If she were honest with herself, she didn’t know what she was doing at all. She’d been doing it for years. Going back and forth between first person and third, slipping into the She and bounding in with a declarative I, sometimes in the same sentences.
Is a person doing a thing, if they do not know what they are doing?
She may not have been doing autofiction. Truth is important to her, and she admits it when she lies about something. (See p. re: lying on a psychological evaluation so that she might appear to have a less troubled past than she had, because she understood that what people know or think they know about your past can change the way they see you in the present)
However, she leans heavily toward a bias of omission in a great many areas of her personal history and experience, who she is.
“You’re very secretive, aren’t you?”
This question was asked by the person who may know her best among all the people who know her.
There is a lot that even this person does not know.
“Sometimes it’s better to keep things to yourself.” Her soon-to-be mother-in-law pulled her aside in the wood-smelling kitchen of her childhood home by the river in Georgia, spoke the words in a low tone of advisement. Faith had smiled along, and nodded as though to say, “Yes. Yes absolutely. Totally hear you on that. Keep it…to…yourself.”
Something in her withered, but she kept smiling, and understood with just a little bit of heaviness, that withered hope for ease, that her soon-to-be-mother-in-law was absolutely correct. That sometimes, yes, it is a very good idea to just keep it to yourself.
In the beginning, before she began to write in third-person about her day and her thoughts, how her body feels in response to experience, what she notices and considers, when she was still writing from the I, for the most part, it was her writing openly on the internet, albeit on an unread weblog with shitty pictures of amateur drawings on it, about her crying, about her family, about who she is and how she didn’t really know. That was what raised concerns.
She did not begin writing personal non-fiction narrative in an autofictive style for the purpose of writing an autofiction, because she did not know that such a thing existed, because she has barely read a book the past few years, because she has been working in the community mental health industry and running in the forest, and being a mom of some sort to the two beloved growing-up young people she birthed in some splintered different life of some person who she was, is, will be. (Neruda)
When she is not “spending time with the people she loves, working, or running, she is sitting alone on her porch writing thousands of words to herself via email through her phone, sometimes for hours and hours, all these scraps of days. Her thumbs become numb, but she keeps writing. She goes on for pages upon pages about her drive to work, the songs on the radio, half-assed theories about everything, whatever she found beautiful or interesting that day.
Over the past 9 years of emailing herself, Faith has slowly settled into a life that, from the outside, looks to be the life of a moderately eccentric, semi-reclusive artist kind of crazy lady, whose yard looks like shit and has poor social niceties, but is alright enough.
“It’s a big house, too much for her to take care of, just her there.”
“You can’t even see your house from the street. It’s in a little forest.”
“Oh? You live in the Boo Radley House?”
“Well,” she had shrugged, “I’m kind of like Boo Radley on the inside.”
She didn’t know, exactly, what this meant, but it came out of her mouth and felt true.
Curious and creepy and leaving small gifts. Trinkets and wonders.
She laughs at herself. She is ridiculous. She’s not like Boo Radley. I mean, she goes to the grocery store.
Haha, there I go. Slipping. See, a real autofiction writer would not skip tense like that. She’d remain in the She. The third person.
Or not? She doesn’t know, like she was saying, she has hardly read a thing, because she has been too busy writing emails to herself about what she is trying to remember from the day. Trying to learn how to encapsulate great swathes of experience into poetry. Reading some books would probably help her to be a better writer.
She wants a life where she can do all of the things she loves to and needs to do.
Last week, she put in notice at her job at the Recovery Education Center. She has worked there for almost 8 years, which is a long time.
She sat on the floor in her aunt’s small house in Marin County. In two weeks, she was supposed to go to Australia, where she was going to ride a bike along the southern coast, because she liked the name of the town of Adelaide and wanted to go somewhere far away. She put the ticket on a credit card she’d gotten when she was in college, before she became a graduate school drop-out living at her childhood home and working part-time at a dog kennel out in the county where she would, one afternoon, find an entire horse skeleton in the pine woods behind the kennel, and quickly snatch the skull from the ground and run like she’d stolen something to her car, where she tucked it into the trunk, now a sacred object to her.
She did not question why she loved it.
Sitting on the floor of her aunt’s small house in Marin County, still believing that she would go to Australia, planning to walk in the city the next day, unaware that that night she would dance erotically in front of the sliding glass door in the bedroom to the deck, and wish she weren’t alone. She had learned to be alone. She liked being alone, but sometimes she got a bored and lonely feeling. She slid the thin volume of poems by Pablo Neruda. Of course her aunt would have these poems, gentle yoga-doing aunt in California. “I have no never again. I have no always. In the sand, victory abandoned its footprints…I repaid vileness with doves.”
It is the only poem that she can remember most of the time. It told her about herself, about something shifting and bewilderedly forgiving in her, some plain-faced benevolence and the blithe detachment that she had begun to notice as people drifted in and dropped out of her life, as she herself spun slowly off into some eddy or another, completely disappearing.
She was beginning to understand, sitting there on the floor of her aunt’s house, that everything changes and that what matters is to try to be good.
Some reflexive part of her rolls her eyes at this, snarks.
Still, she thinks that a lot of people try to be good, that a lot of people who might even be doing some really horrific stuff, even genocide, might be trying to be good. Trying to do the right thing.
People are sometimes atrocious idiots about what they believe the right thing to be.
September 12.2018 12:31PM
It made her feel weirdly sick sometimes, to remember what she
believed, what she imagined and hoped for.
The girl pulled herself out of the backseat of the Suburban, dragged
her bag across the bag seat, got her bear. She was thirteen years old,
and she carried the bear by its arm. The place looked like a boring
hotel, with its sets of glass doors, it’s lamp in the lobby, curved
desk at the entrance. The sun was beginning to go down, but a person
sat at the desk like a clerk. This wasn’t a doctors office. It never
closed. It was always open, because it was a hospital.
They had to be buzzed in, and they walked stoically across the no-slip
mat between the first doors and the second doors, none of them
speaking, her father leading. She felt a numb electric heaviness in
her as she and her mother went to stand off to the side while her
father talked with the clerk-lady.
“Yes, good evening,” she heard him say, pleasant and southern, the
faux gentility he’d learned from growing up with old ladies. When in a
terrible and awkward situation, like taking your daughter to an
in-patient psychiatric unit, it’s best to just be polite, to not say
anything about what is happening, to get through it with the minimal
upset or expression of emotion. “We’ve spoken with you.” A cordial
introduction of the family name, “We’ve brought Faith. She has an
The girl stood off to the side with her mother, the voice of her
father drifting across the empty space of the place, hitting the doors
in every wall, pressing against the glass windows to the small central
garden, where people who looked like tired normal people smoked
cigarettes in loose clusters. Adult patients wearing no-slip socks or
slippers. Lighting their cigarettes on a small installed hot coil,
pushing the button and leaning their faces to the wall where the heat
sprang up. Nobody could have lighters
There was a list. Her mom made notes on the same yellow legal pad she
wrote grocery lists on. “You can take razors, but you have to check
them out.” “You can’t take anything aerosol.” “You can have one pair
of shoes, but no laces.”
The girl stared at her old white Keds, stained grey at the edges with
the dirt from home. She pictured her feet, riding a bike, hot sun on
the new-paved roads. There was no way she was going to cry, though
feeling in her was a great building wave, a thick heavy pulling, a
sucking toward the bottom.
It was hard to breathe. If she said anything, she would cry. A nurse
came. A lady. Her parents were told to leave, to leave her there.
She felt an enormous panicking inside, but understood she could not
move, that she could not do anything, or say anything. It was hard to
breathe. Her hand was sweaty hot still holding the bear. “You’ll need
to give that to me,” the nurse held out her hand. “You can have it
“Faith, we’re going to go.” Her father made the
sad-sounding-but-factual declaration. “Give her the bear.”
“We’ll talk to you soon. In a couple of days.”
Her mother looked sad. Her father looked sad. They were leaving her
here, because she’d done a stupid thing. They were getting her help.
She gave the nurse the bear, dropped her head, felt her entire face
trembling with the child-grief she’d known for as long as she’d been
alive, that ocean of crying in her. “Okay,” Her voice broke. “Bye…”
There was a payphone by the river, down on Second Avenue, and she
cried on the phone with her mother. “I don’t even know where to go!”
She was standing in the middle of a beautiful city, a brand new city.
A place that is real and existing and that she is standing in,
thousands of miles away, finally, from home.
Of course, she wants to come home.
She is always wanting to go home. This time, she will not, and she
knows this, even as she is going through the motions of her
homesickness, talking on the phone with her mother, she knows this.
Underneath the confused big feels of being far away and in a totally
new place, there was a bright and vital excitement. She was far away
and in a totally new place.
It was hard for her to find friends, because she is strange, with
short bleached hair, wearing massive flat knit sweaters, old army
fatigues, dirty boots. She is not a stylish punk, sitting in her
student housing room, listening to Born Against and eating pizza while
staring out the window at people walking by the science building,
teams of white and green crossing the field to the Athletics Complex.
She was friendly enough, and met a nice lesbian girl down the hall,
who she could not kiss because she did not want to be loved by this
When she lost her favorite brown sweater, she made a flyer, “Missing
Sweater,” drew a picture of it, an amorphous alive looking thing.
“Beloved Brown Sweater, Call With Any Info.” She only got one call, a
message, a guy laughing, saying she was a fucking loser. Lose-er.
She didn’t understand why, but it made her feel bad.
It was easy to find the record stores. They were everywhere, all of
them different, dust-and-plastic, paper incense smelling caverns
filled with sound and pictures, patches and studs, used microphones,
rickety racks of t-shirts, flyers taped to the counter. This was no
mail-order. All of the 7” Screeching Weasel Eps were there, all the
Jawbreaker, the J Church 10”. She didn’t care if she didn’t have
friends, not really. She liked hanging out, talking with anybody or
not talking to anybody.
The smallest record store was right at the foot of the bridge, and
half of the space was gutted out for a plywood, black-painted stage
for shows. It used to be Thee O, but that place was gone, and a new
place was there. It was only her and the tall slouching guy behind the
counter, bangs like a Ramone. It surprised her when she asked, “Hey?”
and made the guy look up.
“Do you know where the punk rock scene is around here, or where the
punks hang out?”
She had seen people with mohawks in the park, rail-thin and scowling.
She had seen a small gang of Skinheads-Against-Racial-Prejudice type
kids, tight-laced boots with their pegged pants. Kind of Ska kids.
The guy laughed, was bemused, “Hmmm, well…”
She was listening, curious. “If you take the number 12 bus to Sandy
Blvd. and get off at 47th, there’s a house there, called the
Powerhouse, you’ll see it, just walk right. It’s by this big
September 12, 2018 3:28PM
The corner booth at the Huddle House was her favorite.
There aren’t any gaps in her memory, at least that’s what she thinks. It’s not that she doesn’t remember. It’s that she is lazy about writing down the grit and shine of a couple of decades of her life. It’s fascinating to her, the way she seems caught with one foot in her youth, one foot in her madness, the decades between just brief mentions, phone calls and small occurrences. It’s not as though the years she spent moving back and forth across the country were not important, or that nothing happened during the years she lived in Portland, or the years when her children were young, the years of her marriage, it’s not as though these things do not matter.
In the things she comes back to, however, she finds herself re-telling the same scenes again and again, bounding between her childhood and early adolescence and the time she lost her mind about God and the clouds.
Although she has been living out the years of her peculiar recovery, those years, too are under-represented, at least in the details of the specific things she did to ‘get better.’
She wonders if it is okay if she doesn’t tell about all the moving, about all the different rooms she inhabited, her long trips alone, her education at the university, her friendships and walks over bridges.
Is it okay to say little of her marriage, indicating only that it existed and then ended, that there were concerns about her mental health?
She doesn’t like to write about being a mother, because it is too difficult to be honest. She loves her children. She does not like how white middle class 21st century American mothering in the 21st seems to erase who she is, the way she does not fully exist as a person within the role of mother.
She supposes that it’s a matter of how she wants to tell the story.
The first time she left home, they towed her car behind the truck he’d bought with his father’s death benefits, drove north through the grey and green of Ohio, Michigan, up to the edge of the biggest lake, where they had a small apartment in a basement and stayed up late at the all-night Mister Donut, playing Gin Rummy and drinking bad coffee while it snowed and snowed after a fall of red leaves and burnt carpet and doomed efforts to go back to high school, where she managed only to do a half-assed report on daguerreotypes in the Civil War and all the kids were much, much smarter than the kids at home, and she was weird, with headaches and a boyfriend she lived with, a GED. She didn’t have to be there. She quit again.
Eventually she went home, broke his heart, that boy she loved who she found at the Huddle House across the street from the county high school where she’d sit and drink bad coffee and smoke cigarettes and glower at the shimmering heat outside. He had pretty hair, long and clean, tied back in a ponytail while he cooked on the line. Rail thin and green eyed, sad all around him because his father had died. He was beautiful to her.
She would be there when he began having seizures coming off of the Xanax he bought from the head cook at the Huddle House. She went to visit him at the same place where she had been, except on the adult unit. They walked through the woods behind the house where he lived on the porch, slept on the floor in the small space that the friendliest waitress had offered up to him. He lived with her and her family, out in the county.
She had panic attacks and went on vacation with her family where she had sex that she doesn’t remember with the owner of the resort on her last night there. She got trichomoniasis and had to go to the health department out by the old county middle school, talk to the nurse, tell her what happened.
“You don’t remember at all?”
“No. Not really.” She looked at her hands in her lap. “I mean, I remember looking down at one point, but I don’t remember much else.”
She took the medicine and moved to Northern Michigan with her metalhead boyfriend. She’d break his heart, move back home.
The year she lost her mind, he randomly got in touch, and stayed in touch. Emailed her back, told her about his family, his work, how he got through his own divorce. He showed up out of nowhere, was a friend to her.
The following fall she was living in Jacksonville. Working at a Subway and feeling depressed with her new boyfriend, a drummer who was still in love with his ex-girlfriend who looked just like Meg Ryan.
She moved home.
When she went to the mountains, she went alone, stayed for nine months, sat silently on the couch of the long-haired man in her English Composition class while the Statw Bureau If Investigation searched the house, walked the boyfriend of his roommate out in handcuffs with heroin trafficking charges. She slept with her neighbor without being his girlfriend, worked in a deli and dropped her classes at the community college, moved to Alabama in the spring to live with her brother for 70.00 a month rent. She worked the day shift at the burrito place that her brother’s girlfriend’s father owned, fucked up the chile rellenos. Slept with man who worked at the Auto Zone, who was attractive, but who she wasn’t attracted to. Drove drunk, went to shows. Said dumb things. Didn’t learn to play the guitar on the porch.
She moved to the west coast in the summer.
September 16, 2018 [Draft, unsent]
She sits on the back porch with the steady rain of the dying hurricane creating a dull noisy ensconce around the house. Big, square house. Dirt on the white paint, day grey and dripping, the kudzu and wisteria hanging down from the young oak and privet, the roof of the shed.
Everything goes to wild, if left to it’s own devices long enough.
She is curious about the unrestrained world, the growth of the hedges if they are not cut back.
September 17, 2018 1:52PM
The wind after the storm was full of cool gusts. The sky a saturated blue with perfect stratocumulus billows drifting steady and lazy up above the mountains.
She watched the currents of air push through the trees of the yard, the spin and rustle of the leaves, reminded herself to just chill, to not be so urgent in her aim to write down the conversation she’d had with mother, which had ended just moments ago as a yellow cement mixer roared by her house.
“I gotta…I gotta…”
Her mother was still saying goodbye.
“I gotta go. It’s too loud here.”
The truck moved up the street, but the sound of it still gnawed at her attention, her mother’s voice sweet and chirping on the phone. She felt like she was going to jump out of her skin.
She hadn’t wanted to be on the phone long, just wanted to check in about how things were out at her parents’ home in the county, where power goes out and roads flood during storms. “Oh, it’s all fine here. Dad’s sweeping the porch, and I’m picking up some plants that got knocked over.” Her mother coughed, something deep and ragged. As Faith listened, she looked at the leaves of the calycanthus down in the yard, big and broad on the under-branches of the woody shrub, adapted for the lack of light. She wondered, briefly, if her mother would die of lung cancer, if she’d get emphysema. She feels briefly sad, picturing it, her happy mother dying and unable to breathe, then puts it out of her mind.
“So, no power outtage or anything?” Faith felt restless. She doesn’t like to talk on the phone, but knows it’s important to call, to make the effort to check in, see how things are going.
“Nope. Everything is just fine. Isn’t it a pretty day?” Her mother is easily delighted. “How are things in town?”
“Oh, fine.” Faith was weary, reporting that everything was fine, sharing segments of schedules, plans for the day, complicated arrangements to leave her daughter volunteering and pick up her son, go back to volunteering. “I went to the store, and I guess I’m just gonna try to get some writing done. I’m trying hard to get this manuscript finished, a draft, a solid draft, done by late-October.”
“I was going to ask you about that! How is it?”
Faith had woken up at 8:00, because schools were on 2-hour delay. Her neck hurt, a sharp grinding pain on one side. She felt upset, and she didn’t know why. Cried for a minute, feeling like a loser who is writing a shitty book.
“The whole thing is a delusion.” The words rose up into her, settled as she walked through her morning. The taking of her children to school, the driving to the store.
“I need help with it,” she told her mother. “I am trying to just get a draft done that is representative enough of what it might be, with help, to find the help I need.”
It is a crazy idea. A dumb idea.
She pictures it on the way home from the store, day sprawled out all sunny and rain-clean. How she will reach out to people, the people she will reach out to. She pulls into the driveway to park under the overgrown canopy of wisteria and kudzu that is encroaching on the house. Feels a little smirk of her clever self, thinking about why she isn’t scared to contact a stranger. She wonders if she will include the emails she sent to strangers in her telling of the story.
She ought to.
Those emails are, themselves, telling.
For the most part, what they say is that she is ridiculous and idiotic. Self-righteous and deluded. Sad, crazy lady trying to prove God with clouds. Thinking people ought to know.
She doesn’t mention to her mother, sitting on the porch, talking on the phone, that she is aware, and has been aware all morning, that eight years ago, on this day, she was one week in from a two week hospital stay on involuntary commitment orders issued by the magistrate on petition by her family.
This year, she has thought about that a lot. It is on her mind, although she tries to put it out of her mind, to pull herself back to the present, to remind herself that it doesn’t matter, was done, turned out okay, etc. etc.
For days, she has had crying coming up close to the surface, confusion and self-doubt churning up her thoughts. She tries not to take it seriously. She is okay, in some broad scheme of things, she is okay. In some ways she is better than okay. She will be okay.
She offers these reassurance to herself, looks around, checks her reality. See, she is not a sad, deluded crazy lady with an impossibly terrible manuscript and a regrettably naive ambition. She is a calm, competent mother of two, driving to the store.
She understands that in working with any large project, an artist will experience moments of destructive self-doubt, agonizing recrimination over how idiotic they are to try to make something beautiful and then to only have shit on their hands.
None of this is mentioned to her mother, who is asking some thing about editorial processes that Faith doesn’t have the slightest clue as to how to answer. “So, would someone then help you to figure out what parts might need to be changed, or rearranged differently?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what would happen. I’m not sure who I will reach out to, or how I will reach out them.”
She doesn’t tell her mother that she saw a young woman in the line at the grocery store with her own mother, a weary tan looking lady, stringy like a smoker, Pink Floyd t-shirt, and her daughter short and plump, greasy hair in the back, a plastic tiara of golden cat’s ears, black lace sleeves on her dress. Kind-child brown eyes.
She didn’t say that she felt strange, wanted to tell the girl something, said “Excuse me…” stepped toward the girl, “Excuse me…” The girl turned. “I like your ears,” Faith knew her eyes were beaming. “Keep being who you are. You’re great.”
The girl smiled, smiled like she was tucking some small found thing into her pocket. Turned, walked away.
“They’re from Hatteras,” the cashier, aging herself with pink lipstick, hair ragged orange-y tufts. “Just going home today.”
“Oh,” Faith handed her store card over the small counter, “Hard to imagine what that must be like. It’s beautiful here.” She looked toward the big windows of over the customer service desk.
The process of beeps and sliding objects that would time out their transaction began, and Faith moved to bag the few groceries, sparkling water and paper towels. “I guess you just have to go, and leave some things.” The cashier shook her head, set the cardboarded brick of canned drinks toward the bags with a thud. “You just do what you have to do, I guess.”
Faith noticed that she sounded uncertain when she said, “Yeah, you can’t just fall apart.”
“You’ve got to be prepared, too.” The cashier was no-nonsense.
“The best you can anyway,” Faith set the bags into a cart. “Seems like most people can barely keep up with what they have to do in their everyday lives, much less get ready for storms.”
She moved to pay, “I’m from South Georgia, down on the coast, and my family finally moved up here, because every year it was drag the plywood out and cover the windows.” As her card was fumbled back into her bag, she disclosed, “My father is still obsessed with weather. He watches it all the time.” Wondered if maybe she’d said too much, shared something that was not hers to share.
She tries not to talk about people other than herself, unless she is talking about people in a general, hypothetical sense.
“Well,” The cashier loosely folded her receipts and the unwanted coupons, once and then twice, handing them over like a small gift, “the more you watch, the more it’s outside, out there.”
Faith stood still for a minute, thinking about this that had been said. She smiled for real and said goodbye. Called back to the lady to have a nice morning.
As she walked across the sparse-filled lot, she felt like crying, and she thought it had something to do with the girl, what she had said to her. “Keep being who you are.”
She wondered if the girl would remember it, if she would remember it if she ever got sad about who she is. Faith knew the girl had noticed her, tall lady, worn grey jeans, flip flops and those tattooed birds on the top of her feet, her too-long hair in a thin braid down her back. People notice her sometimes. She is tall and her hair is too long. She has tattoos on her hands.
“I like your roses,” the checkout guy at the smaller, fancier store toward the northside of town had said the day before, when she and her kids went to get chocolate and popcorn because it wouldn’t stop raining. “It’s funny, because most people, they have sleeves, but they don’t have tattoos on their hands.”
“Yeah,” Faith glanced at her daughter bagging groceries, “the first tattoo I ever got was on my hand.” She laughed a little, “My mom was like, what did you do?!, and…” She paused, “Well…I knew I didn’t want to be a banker.”
She didn’t tell her mother any of this, sitting and talking to her on the day after it had rained all day, the anniversary of her admittance to Copestone. She didn’t mention any of it.
“Are you looking forward to not having to make the commute anymore?” Her mother sounded excited.
“Yeah,” Faith thought for a minute, “I’m really gonna have to get some things in place though, so I have structure, things I need to show up for.”
September 18, 2018 11:29AM
“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Isn’t that kind of exciting?” Her mother is an optimistic person.
Faith’s voice had a flat edge in replying, “It’s actually kind of scary.”
October 4, 2018 6:01AM
I do not like to say
that something is like
some other thing
to make these comparisons
exposed as a fraud
on the banks of a river
that is like a river
doing what a river does
which is go on and on
October 20, 2018 1:45PM
I need to remember that if I feel weird, it’s usually because I’m not putting my energy where it needs to go, or am avoiding something I need to be working on or thinking about something in a way that is not useful or that is harmful.
In an old box of papers, i found an early draft of an old short fiction story that seems to not die, about a young man who lives with his grandma (or in some versions, his aunt) and steals a bicycle.
I think I miss writing, and also understand that I need to continue this purification process, and getting rid of stuff, that right now that is important…
I don’t know why I’m going running, other than that my body feels restless and my mind is a little scattered and I have feels.
When I get back, I am going to pick up the young man, then maybe I will get rid of and sort more things and maybe tonight I will sit down and look at writing…I never did write a poem yesterday, didn’t take a single note…
(I probably feel weird because I had stress-dreams about _____ last night and then also this morning, when I went back to sleep. Oh, I just remembered that _____was in my dream, too, but I don’t remember why or how. )
October 21, 2018 9:18PM
I aimed to write a few notes
on the mystery of dust
whether old objects can have a gravity
of their own
like black holes in the attic
Questions like this
and like the mildew on the underside
of the mattress
how’d water end up there
The microclimates of this home
This moldering life
I meant to take notes
So that if remember how easy it was
to tear up the bridge
Between this house
And the field next door
screws loosened like first teeth
Easy to pull
Damp cracker wood
Under the redbud that’s full grown now
Old like me
The Leland cypress
that scrapes the roof edge
The smaller tree long dead
Like I am not
I filled an entire dumpster in three hours
Baby toys covered in dust
I meant to say something
About the cathartes aura
October 22, 2018 9:25AM
Through these small and intermittent conversations, we are slowly becoming better and more intentional people.”
She says this to the barista, pulling the heavy door to open toward her, stepping back into the day. Under her hat, light green cotton flat knit, pulled from a free box four years ago, her hair is unbrushed. The morning is cold, surprising frost on the ground, breath in the air. Somehow the summer is gone, and there was no autumn, just a few lightly brisk days between the warm and the damp chill that will be in the mountains until spring. Yesterday, she noticed herself missing the glaring heat of June, July. The heavy buzz and sweat in her eyes of August. She knows it will be a long time until it is warm again. She wills herself not to miss the summer.
It has been one week since she left her job. Last Monday, she was still an employee of __________. Signing off on her unfinished service documentation notes at a small table in the upstairs kitchen of the administrative offices in a town she hardly ever went to. There was brochure about schizophrenia on the windowsilll. “A serious brain disorder,” the clean typeface told her. “Symptoms often disabling.”
Her long hair was wet and plaited into three separate ropes, like whips or tentacles, snake cords, one for her, one for each of her children.
“I never knew your hair was so long,” the Human Resources assistant commented, as she slid the checklist to the edge of the desk for Faith to initial. Yes. She had returned her keys. No. She had not returned her name tag. ‘Melted,’ was noted below this box, a summary of her telling the story of when she had found the plastic warped and ink-bled in the side pocket of her driver’s side door, her face bruised black and distorted in the crisp plastic sleeve.
“I guess I’ve always seen it up,” the woman handed her a pen. Faith had worked for ___________for almost 8 years, since the winter she got out of the hospital. She glanced down at the curled ends of her braids, coiled at the curve of her hip where she sat. “Yeah, it’s pretty long.” She felt awkward with the lady, like she felt with a lot of people. She was not normal.
A person can spend years doing something, and then – bam – it’s done, no fanfare, no crashing or celebration. A simple walking away, a vertical line of checked boxes, a form slid back across a desk.
She took a picture of herself on the day standing in the parking lot, smiling and with crinkling skin around her eyes. She looked old, but happy.
Her hip felt like it had bees in it. A buzzing ache and sting. She’d been dreaming about the people from work again. For the past three nights, she had dreamed about them. During the day, she did not think about them. The pain in her hip woke her up.
When she was a child, she was terrified of nuclear war.
She used to be scared of nuclear war
and imagined the girl asleep by the tree
In the painting hung behind the couch
To be a refugee of some sort
In her frilled edge dress
Alone with a town in the distance
Sleeping under a tree
Like she might be dead
Or like everyone else might be dead
There in the painting
Hung behind the couch
With its upholstered hourglasses
No arms no legs no heads
Just body shapes repeating
While the television talked about Gorbachev and Reagan
Blaring out to her grandmother
Sitting in a chair like a throne
Too old to care if the world might end
Because of angry, serious men.
October 31, 8:23AM
It is not unusual for a person to have unwanted belongings, to have piles of old things wedged into the corners of their lives, into the closets and spaces above the rooms. Faith didn’t like the feel of these things, lurking in the dark of her house. She wanted to be rid of them.
The pangolin is born without knowing
that it is a creature in a dying world
it scuttles across the earth
with no idea
that the smoke in the distance
the bitter in the ground
born with just a few others
Soft scales and the pull of the muscles
Across the back
The safety of a ball
In the hollow of a tree
Where the roots washed out
A hole in the ground
November 9, 2018 10:01AM
Warm sky in your eyes
The glow of underneath leaf
Water in the air
Rain carries the scent
you warm in the heat of day
cooled now, grey comfort
November 11, 2018 9:06AM
feel it again
Gathering as leaves
Warming as the day peaks
promises of ‘next year, next year,
By this time next year’
The rake scrapes across the stone
And something like laughter
makes her shoulders rise and fall
Just a little
Almost a shrugging off
old convictions, mislaid goals
The pages of books never written
Drifting unseen as always
To join in the spinning of air
The making of promises
Can you feel it again
November 11, 2018 [Draft, not sent]
The late-model sport sedan pulled up to the curb and the driver, a young man with a soft body and a nice enough face, eyebrows raised in question, half-concern, leaned over and opened the passenger side door, pushing it open toward Rachel. “Do you need a ride?”
Rachel didn’t need a ride, she was standing in front of her house and didn’t have anywhere she needed to go. It was nighttime.
She was standing down on the small strip of scraggly grass between the sidewalk and the street. She thought that maybe people were watching her, and she wanted to show them that she was not scared.
I shrugged though, and got into the car, which had a smell like old foam going yellow under the dusty fabric seat covers. It was an old car, a Nissan or a Honda, small and boxy, no aerodynamics, close-feeling in the front seat. The door was made of metal, creaked on it’s hinge and clicked shut. Rachel held her legs close together, her arms pressed into her side. She could smell herself, acrid and full of smoke, oily sweat from the hot day sitting on the porch taking pictures of clouds. “Where are you going?”
Rachel thought for a moment as the car moved her away from her house and up the street toward the middle school and downtown. “I guess just around the block.”
There was a Funyun bag on the floorboard, open and empty, gaping and silvery. “Around the block?” The man looked confused. He was trying to be helpful, or maybe to get a date.
11/16/2018 [Draft, not sent]
To understand my personal experience, and to explore ways that reality is constructed in human consciousness. To develop a *simple and straightforward* overview of ways that learned per